Bobby Previte's Empty Suits

Slay the Suitors

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Slay the Suitors, on the Japanese Avant label, is one of the hardest-edged recordings in Bobby Previte's catalog as a bandleader. While Previte's work has always been edgy and adventurous, the sheer joy he gets from drumming gives his music an exuberant energy and tends -- for the most part -- to hold darker influences at bay. (His ominous 1987 soundtrack recording Dull Bang, Gushing Sound, Human Shriek is a notable exception.) Some of Previte's most upbeat compositions were found on the 1990 Gramavision album Empty Suits, credited to his ensemble of the same name that recorded Slay the Suitors in 1993. Previte, trombonist Robin Eubanks, keyboardist Steve Gaboury, and guitarist/bassist Jerome Harris are present on both Empty Suits CDs, but in many ways the two CDs couldn't be farther apart. On Slay the Suitors, Previte has largely abandoned the world fusion elements of the preceding Empty Suits, taken away the guest musicians, and eliminated any overdubbing in favor of a live in-studio recording. Even with Wayne Horvitz joining Gaboury on keyboards and Roger Squitero on percussion, the band now has a stripped-down immediacy and rougher sound, which is reinforced by Slay the Suitors' more loosely improvisational and unruly music. The Herbert Read quote on the CD cover, the controversial cover art (which reportedly led Gramavision to drop plans for releasing the CD), the Slay the Suitors title, and of course the music itself all take metaphorical aim at classicism in the arts -- so one assumes that the classical-sounding titles of the four compositions here are intended as a touch of irony. All the pieces are longer than anything on the band's Gramavision release, and all take their time to coalesce. "Fantasy and Nocturne" begins quietly with a spare piano melody that is quickly overtaken by a fusion-flavored theme from the full band; the piece then slides into pulse-driven territory filled with skronky instrumental voicings that slip, slide, and collide in cacophonous glee. Spacious passages follow, featuring experimental sonics that circle, skitter, and drone around the anchor of a slow and deliberate piano, before the band pulls back together for a coda that dramatically restates the initial theme. "Waltz" begins with keyboard atmospherics, but by its conclusion has become a ferocious frontal assault of snare-smacking, power chord-crunching metal-meets-prog in triple time; King Crimson's "Red" sounds timid by comparison. "Canon" also takes its time, as melodic trombone, guitar, and keyboard phrases are separated by pauses that let synthesized undercurrents rise to the fore. A brief world fusion-tinged jam -- approaching the spirit of the first Empty Suits CD -- concludes the piece, featuring stellar piano work that should delight fans of harmonically adventurous yet groove-based post-bop. The final composition, "Prelude and Elegy," begins with over five minutes of moody solo piano, sketching chords and lines that dissipate into silence, before the rhythm section and electric keys enter, walking a line between free funk and an acoustic piano trio (a truce of sorts is declared as the band unites beneath a lovely trombone solo that quotes "Stranger in Paradise," ending the CD on a somewhat unexpected note of lyricism). On the whole, Slay the Suitors is a shake-up, wake-up call to arms in which Bobby Previte faults classicism for not only stifling the artistic impulse, but also for running hand-in-hand with deeply entrenched, even violent forces of oppression. With this theme to guide him on Slay the Suitors, Previte is absolutely at his most uncompromising, and the resulting music -- like the CD cover -- is right on target.

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