Jazz and rock have been bedfellows for a long time, although, much like my parents, not every evening has involved the making of sweet music.
Progressive rock and thrash metal bands readily absorbed the fluctuating time signatures and squall of free jazz, and John Coltrane can be held responsible for a range of delights including (the equally influential) Minutemen and Sonic Youth. John Zorn loves Ornette Coleman so much that he recorded an entire album of (admittedly rearranged) covers (Spy vs Spy). Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew period work was influenced by the electric blues offered by Jimi Hendrix. MC5 and The Stooges got into Sun Ra and tried to create free rock (whilst getting involved with (classic jazz hobbies) Black Panthers and heroin respectively.) Ian Curtis was trying to emulate Frank Sinatra when he laid down the vocals to ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’, which remains one of Joy Division’s finest moments. Charlie Watts’ ambition (were he not Mick Jagger’s drummer) is to a black jazz drummer from the sixties.
Shining are part of the new jazz-rock-fusion coming out of Scandinavia (and particularly Norway). A lot of them are definitely finding their way into my collection, especially the ones released on the peerless Rune Grammafon label. Their last album In The Kingdom of Kitsch, You Will Be a Monster sounded like a perfect chimera of the worlds and languages of rock, jazz, classical and electronica, so perfect, in fact, that one could barely see the seams. Grindstone attempts the same piece of alchemy, but unfortunately is much less convincing.
The opening track (which shares the monster title of their previous album) is a pulverising behemoth, like a nu-metal tribute to Suicide and featuring a guest appearance from Ron Burgundy’s jazz flute skills. ‘Winterreise’ is like Black Sabbath if Bill Ward’s jazz influences had ever really made impact, and ‘Stalemate Logan Runner’ starts off sounding like the most jarring of lumpy heavy metal pastiche, before rolling into some of the most fluid arrangements on the album. ‘ASA NISI MASA’ features some delightful strings in a ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ style, and the combined gothic threat of ‘1:4:9′ (which I think is a ratio for mixing mortar) and the bombastic drumming of ‘Fight Dusk With Dawn’ close the album effectively.
My main bug bear with Grindstone is that it doesn’t gel quite as much as it’s predecessor. There are many highlights, which I could have raved about for 700 more words if required, but there isn’t the sense of fluidity which one was presented with previously, and if I’m to be trusted as a reviewer in future, I can only recommend you buying In The Kingdom… first if I’m to leave with my integrity intact.