Jonas Hellborg: Two Rivers


Two Rivers



The Word (Axiom 162 539 898-2)

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Jonas Hellborg (bass), Tony Williams (drums),

Soldier String Quartet: Laura Seaton, David Soldier (violins), Ron Lawrence (viola), Mary Wooten (cello)


Composed by Jonas Hellborg


Recorded: Brooklyn, NY, 1991


Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Bassist Jonas Hellborg is an intense guy. Years ago, I saw him in a concert crowd. Being a fan, I thought about going over and introducing myself. But the look on his face indicated to me that I should not bother. Hellborg's music is also intense. Apart from his numerous recorded projects as leader, Hellborg made his name playing with John McLaughlin, Ginger Baker and the late fusion guitarist Shawn Lane. In many ways, his contributions to the bass vocabulary are undervalued. He's been putting out his own unique music since the early '80s. Much of it was released on his own label Day Eight and others he has created over the years. Doing such allowed him the artistic freedom he sought.

At one point during his McLaughlin run, it looked like he was going to rise to the popularity of Stanley Clarke. But it never happened. His projects took him farther and farther from the mainstream. It has become clear that his desire to serve his music trumps any commercial aspirations.

Arabic in nature, "Two Rivers" is an uncomplicated mantra. We have embarked on a plodding desert trek. Playing on a custom acoustic bass guitar, not an upright, Hellborg is more interested in dissecting the notes than in showing off his prodigious chops. He methodically turns each scalar run on its side, creating an air of strange inevitability. Williams's drumming is quasi-martial in nature. Short and sporadic drum rolls act as fills. The Soldier String Quartet doubles much of the melody and adds the needed flourishes to prod us on. As we approach the last dune, the main theme returns. The journey is at last over. We empty the sand out of our desert shoes and rinse our feet in the current.

Years after I'd been afraid to meet Hellborg, I was introduced to him. I told him of my earlier cowardice. He smiled wryly in a way that hinted he may have been pleased that I'd been frightened of him. I couldn't quite interpret it. But Jonas claimed it would have been fine to come up to him. Nobody should be scared of him, he said. But I am still not quite sure.

Reviewer: Walter Kolosky

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