Shawn Lee

Clutch of the Tiger

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Clutch of the Tiger is the result of the long-distance tape exchange collaboration between troubadour, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Shawn Lee (who has had a very busy year -- this is his third full-length release in 2008), and the mysterious, masked Clutchy Hopkins. Hopkins is said to be a Mojave Desert, cave-dwelling former radical who has been crafting dope beats since 1980. He's not actually been "seen" by anyone but he has daughter who communicates to his label and the equally mysterious cult called the Misled Children (who released their own fine album onPorter in September of 2008). Right. His bio -- issued by his (and Lee's) label Ubiquity -- is tough to believe at best, and more than likely utterly false. Rumors as to his true identity have surfaced all over the internet, and one of the more recent ones is that it's all three Beastie Boys doing some low-budget mucking about in the studio. When it comes to the music on Clutch of the Tiger, however, it hardly matters. Chilled beats, acoustic and electric instruments, and moody textures with jazzy soundscapes are filtered through a mélange of spy, porn, and Bollywood soundtracks. Analogue keyboards, guitars, flutes, Fender basses, trumpets, saxophones, slippery breaks, and lots of space weave together and around one another. In fact, this 12-song set feels like the mellower, mirror image of the Beasties' In Sound from Way Out. If there is a criticism of the music it's that it may be too much of a piece, it floats, hovers, and shimmers along at its own pace, tempos don't vary that much, and the textural feel is similar throughout. There are some highlights, such as "Bill Blows It," where guitars à la Grant Green in late-night mode caress, along with flute lines, a Rhodes piano, and a shuffling four/four that breaks in all the right spots. Muted trumpets, a softly bubbling bassline, and a B-3 wind in and out, percolating a subtle but ever insistent groove. The weird mix of vibes and psychedelic guitar on "When I Was Young" feels more like a loose Frank Zappa studio jam with really cartoony sections inserted in all the best places. This is a thoroughly enjoyable if somewhat breezy listen. It's nowhere near the unhinged wildness contained on Hopkins' Walking Backwards, nor does it possess the far-reaching ambition Lee's Miles of Styles, but it has its own appeal. It may not be an essential part of your record collection, but it fills a spot no other recording can.

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