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Mike Sopko, Bill Laswell and Thomas Pridgen – Sopko Laswell Pridgen [TrackList follows] – self

Mike Sopko, Bill Laswell and Thomas Pridgen – Sopko Laswell Pridgen [TrackList follows] – self – 888295285629, 39:52 [10/16/15] ****:

(Mike Sopko – electric and acoustic guitar; Bill Laswell – electric bass; Thomas Pridgen – drums; Martin Dosh – keyboards (tracks 4, 6, 8, 11); Michael Lewis – tenor saxophone (tracks 6, 8); Hamir Atwal – percussion (track 8); Joshua Smith – saxophone (track 3))

Is it rock? Is it jazz? Can there be a hard rock/hard jazz genre? If so, guitarist Mike Sopko captures it effectively on his new, heavily-charged, collective improvisation CD, Sopko Laswell Pridgen. Sopko’s self-released instrumental trio project is inclement, authoritative, even annihilating at times. Sopko’s searing electric guitar is augmented by Bill Laswell’s elastic electric bass and the powered drums of ex-Mars Volta member Thomas Pridgen. Pridgen and Sopko have previously collaborated as a duo, and through a mutual friend, got Laswell involved in this self-titled, 40-minute, 11-track venture, which can be streamed online in its entirety. The basic threesome is supplemented on a few selections by guest saxophonists, a keyboardist and a percussionist.

Anyone familiar with the Mars Volta or Laswell’s rock-slanted material might have an idea of what Sopko has cooked up. There is free improvisation, communal composition, and broadened post-production. The result is impactful music which merges in-the-moment creativity with studio tweaking, where overdubbing and post-recording techniques change the pieces’ arrangement or organization. The opener, “MJ,” melds heavy metal with toughened jazz. Sopko’s jarring guitar sprints atop Pridgen’s pummeling percussion, while Laswell’s bass presents a semblance of rhythmic regularity. Sopko says the tune’s title refers to either Michael Jackson or Michael Jordan, “depending on which you prefer.” Another celebrity of a different sort is mentioned on the second cut, “Buddy Rich.” Here, Pridgen is unyielding and unpredictable, his drum kit on full attack mode. Sopko explains about the number’s nomenclature, “Thomas’ playing is so ridiculous, and he has such a big personality that some are intimated by it. I think Buddy Rich had a similar thing. I thought it was a great title because both of these dudes are extremely badass.” There isn’t anything which sounds like Buddy Rich during “Buddy Rich,” but the concept of larger-than-life characterization comes across as Sopko escalates his incendiary guitar into the stratosphere and Laswell’s relentless bass hurtles along.  Pridgen’s drums are the focus at the conclusion of “Buddy Rich,” which fades out on his expanding beats.

Geography is also a stepping off place for group improvisation. The fitfully funky “Detroit” is so-named because it has the kind of pre-punk/free-jazz which sometimes threaded through the music of Motor City bands like the MC5 and Iggy and the Stooges. Laswell’s bursting bass develops the groove; Sopko layers in dubbed guitars which alternate between scorching and shimmering; and guest Michael Lewis fills in the holes on tenor sax. The concluding number, “Ohio,” gets its stimulation from another location entirely…outer space. Sopko remarks the otherworldly music (not based on Neil Young’s song) was designated because “it so happens that Ohio has more astronauts than any state.” Guest Martin Dosh (whose credits include Andrew Bird) delivers unearthly keyboard embellishments as an undercurrent to Sopko’s intense six-string runs and slashing soloing. Another saxophonist, Michael Lewis, contributes to two tracks. He and Dosh supply subtle support on the fast-paced, funk-laced “Grazin’,” which finishes with Sopko’s unexpected acoustic guitar improvisation, akin to Derek Bailey or Joe Morris.

Lewis and Dosh provide assistance to the high-flying “Airplane Mode,” where Lewis soars on sax and Sopko accelerates his Bailey-esque tone on restless acoustic guitar. Laswell is very resourceful on “Airplane Mode,” where he showcases his formidable bass talent. Laswell is also notable during the spontaneously subjective “Acres,” a trio excursion which mixes unadulterated elements with abstract instances. Laswell’s inspiration goes to the heart of the progressive rock-tinged “Praxis,” musically prompted and named after Laswell’s experimental rock group. During “Praxis,” Pridgen’s drums and percussion attain a mechanized métier, while Sopko furnishes double-guitar strata combining heavy metal riffing and atmospheric guitar effects. Good news for fans. The sessions for this release produced enough taped material for a sophomore album, which is set for forthcoming distribution.

TrackList: MJ; Buddy Rich; Detroit; Daybreak; Quench; Grazin’; Acres; Airplane Mode; Shades of Sunny Days; Praxis; Ohio.

—Doug Simpson

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