Alan Pasqua first emerged as keyboardist for legendary drummer Tony Williams’ mid-1970s New Lifetime and has been a busy session player ever since, with a solo career focused largely on acoustic music, including the elegant My New Old Friend (Cryptogramophone, 2005). Still, the outstanding DVD, Allan Holdsworth and Alan Pasqua featuring Chad Wackerman and Jimmy Haslip (Altitude Digital, 2007), proved Pasqua still has the energy and chops for pedal-to-the-metal fusion. The Antisocial Club continues his revived interest in fusion with a terrific group of well and lesser-known players.
Pasqua’s music has its roots in late-1960s-mid-1970s electric Miles, and he couldn’t have chosen a better trumpeter than up-and-comer Ambrose Akinmusire. Just 25, Akinmusire has already built an impressive resume with artists including Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer and Josh Roseman. On the bristling, Spanish-tinged “New Rhodes,” he solos with a Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1969) fire, waxing lyrical on the title track’s Latin-esque groove, held firmly in place by Yellowjackets bassist Jimmy Haslip, drummer Scott Amendola and percussionist Alex Acuña. Saxophonist Jeff Ellwood, another relative youngster, may not have Akinmusire’s recording credentials, but he’s no less impressive on the broodingly propulsive “Wicked Good.”
The group works together far too well to be truly antisocial, but it’s definitely far from polite. While Haslip and Amendola—a drummer capable of everything from balls-out skronk to in-the-pocket funk—are relentlessly grooving, they play with the kind of flat-out energy that makes a greasy tune like “Fast Food” just a little, well, rude. “George Russell” feels cleaner, more like Headhunters-era funk, but at its core is the innovative Lydian Chromatic Concept of its namesake; the undeniable foundation for Pasqua’s Herbie Hancock-inflected acoustic piano solo.
Acoustic musings aside, Pasqua largely favors electric sounds, in particular the gritty, overdriven Rhodes tone of “New Rhodes,” “Fast Food” and “Wicked Good,” which loosely references—but doesn’t imitate—“Bitches Brew,” though at a faster clip. “Prayer” is a tone poem that could easily have fit on Miles’ In a Silent Way (Columbia, 1969), while “Message to Beloved Souls Departed” extrapolates Miles into a more lyrical compositional framework. The entire set possesses more defined form—a focus of Pasqua’s, regardless of context, throughout his career as a leader.
But the ace in the hole that lifts The Antisocial Club into the realm of outstanding is guitarist Nels Cline. Just as John McLaughlin’s rough-edged playing often defined the overall sound of Miles’ electric albums, Cline’s even greater textural diversity expands The Antisocial Club. Cline should be just as important as McLaughlin—equally encyclopedic but even more chameleon-like; but his oftentimes avant leanings preclude the kind of wider acclaim he deserves. He’s no less on-the-edge here, but Pasqua’s largely groove-centric material sometimes grounds Cline while, elsewhere, his extreme playing contributes even greater bite.
This may not be a disc for the well-mannered, but those looking for fusion with sharp teeth and a certain political incorrectness would be well advised to join The Antisocial Club. -By John Kelman