Sure, production by committee has been the default mode in hip-hop and pop music for years, but left-field fusion prog-rock with an electronic bent? Not so much. Mumpbeak, the brainchild of Brit keyboardist Roy Powell, features four heavyweight bassists—among them, Tony Levin and Bill Laswell—in top form as they collaborate across gestures, genres, and oceans, with Laswell adding effect flourishes and final touches from behind the mixing board.
The project is a lively throwback to a time when instrumental rock was analog-thick and bristled with open-ended jams until the tape ran out. Powell’s distorted Clavinet leads the way, with bassist Shanir Blumenkranz—recruited by Laswell from John Zorn’s circle of upstarts—and drummer Pat Mastelotto providing most of the hyper-syncopated grist. “Forelock” conjures shades of (very) early Rush, the bass fused seamlessly to a heavy-footed, marauding kick drum; later on, Blumenkranz lends an almost guimbri-like tone to the cinematic fugue “Monocle.” Levin weighs in on the free-form “Chain,” his jazzy filigrees and long tones filling out the bottom in calm counterpoint to the sonic chaos around him. On “Nork,” bassist Lorenzo Feliciati sits in, his fluid and dub-like lines sounding positively Laswellian (yes, I had to use the word).
For his part, Laswell seems content to lay back, but he does sound prominent on the closer, “Piehole,” his signature plucked harmonics, fretless slides, and distorted slaps driving the track toward a psychedelic apotheosis. As we await a new Painkiller project (a live compendium from 2005 entitled The Prophecy), it’s useful to recall how Laswell once referred to himself in these pages as a “finisher” rather than a record producer. Mumpbeak catches fire in the raw freedom of its performances, but what really gives it an insistent burn is the polished consistency of the sound: expertly layered, fine-tuned for depth, and stretched to the brink in the low end.