Compiled from a live performance in Zurich, Switzerland, in the summer of 1996, Transmutation Live features an interesting incarnation of Bill Laswell's free jazz/rock/hip-hop collective. Frequent compatriots Buckethead and Brain assist on guitar and drums, respectively. Buckethead is especially unchained, doing his best Eddie Hazel-meets-Yngwie Malmsteen impression throughout the 60 minutes of this disc. DXT adds synthesizer and turntables, where he is aided and abetted by the Invisible Scratch Pickles, the Bay-Area collective of Q-Bert, Mixmaster Mike, Shortkut, and Disk. These four individuals have plenty of solo space, showing that in the hands of the right man, the turntables can be a tool of unrestrained virtuosity, capable of anarchic bursts of noise as well as, surprisingly enough, actual melodic content. Their performances simply have to be heard to be believed. Holding it all together is Brain, whose precise yet funky grooves provide the necessary foundation for the soloists' insanity. Laswell is a better producer than a bassist and his contributions can easily be seen as the weakest link of this fine band. Additionally, his bass (and, to a lesser extent, Buckethead's guitar) is hindered by excessive reverb which often buries his playing behind the drums and turntables. The four tracks on Transmutation Live are labeled simply as four movements, and they truly act that way, with almost-ambient sound sculptures giving way to metal-stomp grooves, which in turn make room for turntable weirdness of the highest order or solo guitar histrionics that wow and amuse simultaneously. All in all, a fresh and exciting reminder of what forward-thinking musicians can do if they simply put their minds to it.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Daniel Gioffre