Vernon Reid & Masque

Known Unknown

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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.

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