Always one to push things to the limit, out-there rapper/producer Beans hands some beats over to avant-jazzers William Parker and Hamid Drake for one of the most sparse and narrow releases in Thirsty Ear's genre-smashing Blue Series. Only is a skeletal, midnight album, and while it's narrow enough to be considered a mood piece that won't always suit the listener, it's Beans' bold choice to keep things lean. Looking to emulate a bop trio, he pares his own contributions down so as not to take advantage of the layering possibilities of electronics. He also throws bassist Parker and drummer Drake some of the most tastefully dated beats he's ever brewed, some approaching cheese, but run through a sinister, crackling filter. Parker winds around the backing tracks and slowly creates loose melodies, but Drake responds with funk and lots of tense friction, snapping on the snare to lure the listener out of hypnosis and shockingly laying down a stomp like he was a garage band drummer on the sprawling "20." Fans of Beans' unlikely words should be aware he's frequently just a producer, but the trade-off is he's 100-percent himself when he grabs the mic and not the least bit tentative in these heady surroundings. It is his second go-around in the Blue Series after all -- the first time being with his Antipop Consortium crew and pianist Matthew Shipp in 2000 -- so he's free as a bird and more than willing to diss other rappers, mention Jay-Z bootlegs, drop the "MF"'s as needed, and deliver those quick lines that are totally Beans ("Peace to MCs/you're all my dogs now /so play dead" or maybe just "Hairy palm narcissist"). With all these giant, heralded names playing their roles so perfectly, it's not that Only is more than the sum of its parts, but this trio is channeling this music as a collective much more than individually creating it. Each musician offers their abundant talents selfishly to this stark project, and the results are as pure as they are riveting.
AllMusic Review by David Jeffries