Bobby Previte's preceding Gramavision release, Claude's Late Morning, was a vehicle for the drummer/bandleader's often driving and propulsive compositions, featuring both fiery jazz expressionism and layered counterpoint that suggested elements of contemporary minimalism. With nine musicians playing a wide array of acoustic and electric instruments, Claude's Late Morning also had a nearly pastoral quality in addition to its dense polyphony and syncopated percussives; spare and beautiful pieces -- including Bill Frisell on guitar and Guy Klucevsek on accordion -- gave the album some of the wide-open feel of Frisell's forays into Americana. Yet there were also burning electric guitar solos, drum machine rhythms, and lots of electric keyboards, moving the music away from the acoustic jazz feel of Bump the Renaissance and Pushing the Envelope. Previte's next group, Empty Suits, continued the trend, while also jettisoning most of the pastoralism in favor of world fusion exuberance with a downtown edge. On Empty Suits, Previte offered a somewhat harder-rocking version of Claude's Late Morning. While the changes between the two albums are often subtle, this time out Previte locks more frequently into tribal rhythm patterns, and relies even more heavily on electronic drums. Some wild electric guitar solos are unleashed, thanks to both bandmember Jerome Harris and guest Elliott Sharp, and Robin Eubanks does a fine job continuing in the mold of Claude's Late Morning's manic trombonist Ray Anderson.
A high-energy, take-no-prisoners attitude is apparent from the first track, "Across State Lines." Although the galloping groove is unabated throughout, the piece's intermittent introduction of a descending chord structure remains compelling, as are the screaming and sliding electric guitars and the wailing soulfulness of guest alto saxophonist Marty Ehrlich. The new world fusion emphasis is featured first on "Gaboo," a beautiful midtempo cruiser with atmospheric harp glissandos from guest Carol Emanuel (also on Claude's Late Morning) and guest vocalist Roberta Baum's harmonized multi-tracked chant. At the climax of the churning and careening tribalistic workout "Break the Cups," Baum lets loose with a flurry of chanting, scatting, and ululating that is simply spellbinding. Previte does relax the pace a bit; "Pichl" is slow, moody, and ethereal, with plenty of space for Eubanks and keyboardist Steve Gaboury to display a more subtle and reflective side. Yet everything is cranked back up by the album closer "A Door Flies Open," with electronic drums, turntables (from guest David Shea), guitar riffing, keyboard ostinatos, and vocalizations that coalesce into a clattering street corner celebration, thankfully retaining downtown urban grit and entirely avoiding world music prettiness. The Claude's Late Morning and Empty Suits CDs on Gramavision are among the early peaks of Bobby Previte's musical career, although out of print and difficult to find. It may be easier to locate Slay the Suitors, the equally impressive although very different second Empty Suits CD. Slay the Suitors was released on the Japanese Avant label after Gramavision reportedly refused to issue the album, finding its cover art to be controversial.