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Massacre - Lonely Heart

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Artist: Massacre

Album: Lonely Heart

Label: Tzadik

Review date: Aug. 31, 2007

As far as I’m concerned, Fred Frith’s musicianship is beyond reproach. Similarly, the musicians with whom he surrounds himself are some of the best in the business. Why, then, did this project need to be called Massacre? My complaint has nothing to do with quality, as the playing and recording are superb. The name’s the thing: To me, Massacre symbolized an era. Their single masterpiece, Killing Time, sewed up the various musical threads of the New York experimental music scene with power and conviction. Why give the name to a band that’s only two-thirds Massacre and only on the periphery of the ballpark in sound and intent?

This is the reformed Massacre’s third album, so the likelihood is that the name will stick. My rather ideological complaint aside, this is a fine live trio set. The dynamic and extraordinarily versatile Charles Hayward fills the drum chair with inventiveness and precision, a perfect compliment to Bill Laswell and Fred Frith’s transcultural bass and guitar explorations. The mammoth “Send” finds the trio stretching out in a suite of connected short-forms, Frith laying down some honest-to-goodness rock and roll guitar work as he’s not done in years. Even his occasional ventures into the avant-garde seem to fall under the “rock” rubric - high-register distortions and screaming slides forming their brew. Laswell’s dub preoccupations are on display, not to mention some bubbly bass work. While some of Hayward's beats can sound dated, he changes things up often enough to keep the 20-minute piece moving.

“Step” shows Laswell even more firmly entrenched in reggae, his syncopated bassline bobbing and weaving around Hayward’s slightly plodding groove. "In” sees the band picking up speed again, Hayward and Frith timbre-shifting from moment to moment, finding that energy I associate with Massacre at its best.

Frith emerges as the hero, and maybe this is by design. His arsenal of sounds is immense while still clinging to the raw timbres of rock, and the others fall more and more under his spell as the disc proceeds. Ultimately, it’s a testament to three top-drawer improvisers, men who can inhabit any world associated with post-punk in a way that’s convincing and musically rewarding.

Ultimately, though, Lonely Heart does not look forward. Every genre and style invoked has a well-worn path behind it. That separates this disc once and for all from Massacre’s best work.

By Marc Medwin

Other Reviews of Massacre

Killing Time

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View all articles by Marc Medwin

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