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Known Unknown

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Album Review

Vernon Reid finally follows up his solo debut with Known Unknown, a mere eight years (!) after Mistaken Identity. The template is basically the same: Reid and his longtime bandmates keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum and bassist Hank Schroy (drummer Marlon Browden is new for this recording) set up deceptively simple little heads and then just throw down. Reid gets some amazingly thick tones out of his guitar, and his playing sounds like no one else. Mistaken Identity was graced with some great clarinet blowing, courtesy of Don Byron. Byron sits out this date (although one of the solos in "Outskirts" sure sounds like clarinet), but that just gives Gruenbaum more room to stretch out. Byron's presence is missed, to be sure, but Gruenbaum turns in some absolutely head-spinning solos, often on his own keyboard invention, the Samchillian Tip Tip Tip Chee Peeee. The production is a good bit more straightforward as well: Reid co-produced Known Unknown with engineer Joe Johnson, while the last one was helmed by Reid with Prince Paul and Teo Macero (what a producer lineup!). This album is totally instrumental, whereas the last one had a moment or two with vocals and many samples, and the loopiness and sense of humor Prince Paul brought to the table are largely absent. Interestingly, they try out a couple of covers on this album: Monk's "Brilliant Corners" and Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder," the latter of which is ultimately more successful (it ain't easy doing justice to Monk tunes). DJ Logic joins for "Voodoo Pimp Stroll," one of the album's highlights, along with the beautiful "Time." Known Unknown may not reach the highs of Mistaken Identity, but it's great to hear Vernon Reid's guitar out front again on an all-instrumental album.

Customer Reviews

Don't overlook Vernon Reid

I think Vernon Reid had trouble achieving recognition as a great axe man during the height of Living Colour's popularity due to the fact that he came at you with not so much a "wall of sound" as an onslaught of notes. It was too much for the mainstream listener. It was too much even for me, and I am a die-hard fan of rock guitar. But, since then, he has really settled in without losing the quirky distinctiveness that makes him instantly recognizeable. I have always liked electric guitar instrumentals, but rarely have I liked a whole album. They always end up being too monotonous or too esoteric to keep my interest over more than a few isolated tracks. However, this album has won a place next to the only other guitar instrumental albums that I listen to regularly in their entirety (i.e., Larry Carlton's "Fire Wire" and Bill Palmer's "Outlines"). Every track is distinctive and carries a narrative unto itself. It's rock-jazz fusion, displaying finesse without going soft for a moment. It's experimental in places but remains inviting to the casual listener. This collaboration reminds me of the the works of Jeff Beck and Jan Hammer but projects a warmth that will keep me coming back to it far more often.

Fantastic guitar playing

This is a great album for guitarists who like rock, jazz, funk, reggae, fuzz, mashed all together into a melodious groove.

Known Unknown, Masque
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