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By Bob Bahr
Although this is a dmmmer's album, the only way you would know is from the elevated place the drums hold in the audio mix. You can hear every rhythmic tum-around, every percussion fill, every whisper of the brush on a cymbal.
The fact that this record belongs to Michael Shrieve is a bit more obvious. Shrieve wrote or co-wrote every time on Fascination, stocking it with memorable melodies and quirky structures. Atmospheric and laid-back, this ten-song album retains its composure even when Shrieve, guitarist Bill Frisell and organist Wayne Horvitz latch onto a groove such as "Circus! Circus! " and work it hard. On the other hand, ballads like "Tell Me Everything" and the title track are sweet and airy, almost to the point where they float away. In places, the jazz gives away to ambient music. Be forewarned.
For the most part, Frisell's strong musical personality takes charge, although Horvitz's versatile use of the organ prevents this trio from sounding the least bit traditional. This is not your father's organ trio.
When Frisell goes on a distorted, altered solo blitz, it may sound a bit like fusion, but these roots are more in the vein of the early Miles Davis forays into fusion — Bitches Brew, Filles de Kilimanjaro, etc. — than what fusion has become. In fact, this is an album Miles would appreciate, given its respect for space and silence. Things play out leisurely on Fascination. For evidence, consider "The Glass Tent" and "Sam the Man."
The second half of the album slows down into three eight-minute-plus tunes and the album's only cover tune, Chris Whitley's hymn-like "Living with the Law." "One Nation, Invisible" ventures into dissonant country, with Frisell getting a bit rambunctious with the electronic effects and Horvitz likewise turning up the heat. "The Great Ambassador" paints a weird, quiet landscape with bizarre formations cropping up here and there. "Jig Saw" has Frisell and Horvitz tightly laying their lines together, like two pieces of a puzzle. Shrieve keeps things steady with a pulse on the ride cymbal. The tune mutates several times, once floating out onto an ambient limb, then doubling back along a thread laid down by the organ into a brief, meditative drum solo and then out. Spooky.
Shrieve is an unselfish player, confident in the strength of his compositions and trusting in the heady interpretations provided by his bandmates. This is an eccentric gem of an album, not a diamond or an emerald, but something farther down the beaten path, like a piece of obsidian or lapus lazuli. Fascination may not be forever, but it's well worth hanging on to.