1/  Broken Circle                              (Bailey,Laswell,Williams)     11.03
  2/  Cold Blast                                 (Bailey,Laswell,Williams)     8.16
  3/  The Rattle of Bones                        (Bailey,Laswell,Williams)     7.56
  4/  Pearls and Transformation                  (Bailey,Laswell,Williams)     16.25
  5/  Tears of Astral Rain                       (Bailey,Laswell,Williams)     8.06
  6/  Transplant Wasteland                       (Bailey,Laswell,Williams)     8.32

          Recorded and mixed at Greenpoint Studio, Brooklyn, New York, April 1995
          Engineered by Robert Musso
          Assistant Engineer: Layng Martine
          Drum Arrangment: Artie Smith
          Produced by Bill Laswell
          Associate Producers: John Zorn and Kazunori Sugiyama
          Executive Producer: DIW/Disk Union
Derek Bailey: electric guitar; Bill Laswell: electric 8 string bass; Tony Williams: drums.

          1996 - DIW (Japan), DIW-903 (CD)


After the huge success, musical if not commercial, of his avant-garde supergroup, Last Exit, the expectations were enormously high for Bill Laswell's next idea along those lines. In Arcana, he brought free music pioneer and guitar legend Derek Bailey together with drumming demigod Tony Williams to create, along with Laswell's own ultra-deep bass, the ultimate freely improvising power trio. And, for a while, it works amazingly well. The opening track, Broken Circle is, for its first nine minutes, an astonishingly powerful piece of music. Bailey, as listeners to his work well know, has his own utterly idiosyncratic approach to guitar playing and he rarely, if ever, adjusts that approach to the situation at hand. While Laswell and Williams lay down overwhelmingly strong and throbbing rhythmic grooves, Bailey soars, skronks and screams above, providing enormous and exhilarating tension. This is freely improvised rock at its finest. But then, for the last three minutes, the tension breaks and the trio noodles aimlessly while Laswell attempts a few funk riffs which fail to re-ignite the fire.

Much of the remainder of the album vacillates between these moments of inspiration and wandering in search of them. If the heights of the first piece are never quite achieved again, there is still a great deal of fine playing and group interaction in evidence. While Laswell and Williams tend to fall into blues or funk patterns when all else fails, Bailey is consistently imaginative, coaxing undreamt of sounds from his guitar and providing the necessary creative fuel for this generally very successful session. In fact, listeners who have been cowed by Bailey's "difficult" reputation could do worse than starting here.

4 stars out of 5

Brian Olewnick (courtesy of the All Music Guide website)


In an effort to get the most out of Derek Bailey's reduced touring schedule, producer John Zorn conceived a series of recordings that would present him in a variety of unexpected settings, all of the traditional guitar/bass/drums format. Thus we have Bailey teamed with, of all people, Tony Williams, and Bill Laswell, a bassist with funk/fusion/new music credentials. The result is raucous, unique music that sounds like it's presented in the order recorded, and one hears, or imagines to hear, the musicians getting a handle on things as they progress. Certainly it's a while before Williams seems to adjust to the fact that Bailey isn't going to react to the nasty funk grooves that he and Laswell set up in any obvious way. Of course once the drummer has reached back to call on instincts we haven't heard him use since his mid-'60s records with Dolphy, Rivers, Shorter, et. al., Derek starts insinuating some kind of weird funk himself. Laswell makes a few choices that might be open to criticism on their own, but it's all grist for the maelstrom here. His presence provides the glue for what I think is an extraordinarily successful set, one of Derek's best, but really a significant group improvisation.

Duck Baker (courtesy of the Jazz Times website)