Jon Batiste/Chad Smith/Bill Laswell: The Process

The Process

Keyboardist Jon Batiste (Stay Human), drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), and bassist Bill Laswell (the whole damn musical universe): three master musicians meeting for the first time in a studio to score a film that would never be made. Or so the EPK would have you believe. This is, however, something of a misrepresentation, one which assumes sounds exist strung like beads along continua of time. But a deeper listen reveals these men were already linked through the kinship of their sonic pursuits: different religions, if you will, offering sacrifice to the same gods. As for the unmade film, it too is a product of imagination that requires the screen of a listener’s mind on which to project itself before any semblance of narrative can occur.

At the molten core of this project is Batiste himself, who spins three original pillars of support at key intervals. Their titles—“B1,” “B2,” and “B3,”—read like the display of an elevator descending into some psychological archive, where the aisles between stacks are meant for kneeling in deference to those things unknown even to the self. Awash with suspension and slippage in equal measure, each digs deeper into the mind’s eye to pull out a retinal shift from axis to praxis.

Moving to the surface of this cross-section pulls us by the ears onto the igneous glyphs of trifecta minerals. “Timeline” feels like an extension of its surroundings, holding feet to flame until they crackle with the blisters of a million journeys. Batiste rocks the Hammond organ like a machete through vine, while in “Spiral” (best described as a dance party inside a giant didgeridoo) he adds harpsichord and strings in service of some parallel, cinematic reality. “Black Arc” is more radiant and composes its speech through Laswell’s harmonious eclipse.

From the album’s guest contributions, messages emerge weighted and secure. “Drop Away” features TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe on vocals, for a vibe that puts one in mind of Peter Gabriel at his worldliest. A solid groove beneath it all, courtesy of an especially lucid rhythm section, urges Adebimpe’s voice through a netting of enhancements and inside-outing: a method of disappearance, whereby the self becomes something of an idol to its own destruction.

Killah Priest and Garrison Hawk pen a letter to interplanetary communication in “Turn on the Light/Ascent,” for which the Wu-Tang Clan rapper and Jamaican singer respectively harness the beat as a means of flooding channels beyond this marbled terrarium we call home. From heavy beat-drops arises a phoenix of celestial pianism, tenor sax (courtesy of Peter Apfelbaum), and liquid bass. Trumpeter Toshinori Kondo is no less vocal on “Haunted,” wherein structures contract and expand much like the air in his lungs. This one runs a knife blade along its own gums until they bleed. Guitarist Dominic James adds crunch to “Time Falls,” bringing about an urgent metamorphosis from bling to bang, as if in denial of the jazzy nocturnus that is “The Drift.”

Whereas the filaments of life burn slowly until the body swells with endings, the landscape of death is sustainable and verdant. And this is, perhaps, what the titular process is all about: understanding that everything is a transition into the next, without end.

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