Record Review - 3 August 15 2001

I'm always somewhat leery of the hybrid group that pulls together incredible individual talents and tags on a "project" or "experiment" suffix. The result is often either a bleary, glorified jam session, or an ego-driven exhibition of individual chops in which the alpha-male parts suffocate the compositional whole. So forgive me if I approach the Philadelphia Experiment, a new supergroup featuring the Roots' Ahmir Thompson (aka ?uestlove), supreme jazz bass journeyman Christian McBride and classical virtuoso Uri Caine, with some initial skepticism.

Still, you have to appreciate the idea at work here — take a seminal musician from three distinct musical cultures within one city and put them together in a recording studio to see what happens when people stop being polite and start being ... oh, never mind. All you need to know is that before you even hear a note from the Philadelphia Experiment, the stage is (perhaps ominously) set for real magic.

And the magic is delivered on this album, if in its stylistic breadth alone. The opening track, which (in true Bad Company fashion) shares the same name as the album and the band finds Thompson pulling off an organic drum 'n' bass snap sesh, while McBride grooves on a synco-pated synth-bass line that owes more to Bootsy than Goldie. Throw in the loose, spacious echo of guest trumpeter Jon Swana and you have Bitches Brew version 20.01.

Other highlights include the struttin' retroactive vibe on "Grover," and the cool jazz, jumping retake on Marvin Gaye's blaxploitation anthem, "Trouble Man."

But don't go cracking this liberty bell just yet. While ego poses no threat to this effort, the loose jam factor does run high at times, as on the Sun Ra cover, "Call for Demons." But then, it is Sun Ra. Still, many other tracks have a fade-in, fade-out vibe, as if a usable section of a larger jam had been snatched and polished. All told, however, the forays into looser material only give a greater texture to the tight, promising chemistry at work on this album.??