The Grassy Knoll

Nettwerk / Verve Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Quick: define jazz.

Nope, sorry... whatever you answered, it's probably only partially correct. With all the different flavors that jazz can have, the only certainty about this genre is that there are no hard rules nor solid definitions of what it is.

Once you understand this, it makes the latest release from The Grassy Knoll, III, easier to understand. At times ambient noise, at times sounding like industrial jazz, at times sounding like a rock band, The Grassy Knoll break all the rules that you might know about music and make things interesting - that is, once you get used to its bizarre, unique flavor.

Whatever you do, don't base your entire opinion of this collective of musicians on the opening minute of "A Beaten Dog Beneath The Hail". Admittedly, it is tough to get through, but it does conjure up the image suggested by the song's title. Once you get through the weirdness, however - and it only lasts about 52 seconds - the song shifts into the pleasantly strange amalgam The Grassy Knoll plays. Under the guide of multi-instrumentalist Bob Green (who handles all the bass and most of the guitar work), my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 III begins to take shape, though its final molded appearance is anyone's guess.

Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore, one of the pioneers of ambient music, makes a guest appearance on three tracks, but the band itself is so tight in its looseness that if you didn't have the album credits in front of you, you'd never know it was him.

The jazz influences come into play on songs like "Blue Wires," which not only keep the sense of musical weirdness about them but also create some grooving rhythms that you'll have to fight against tapping your foot to. Lord help us, they even dare to get a little funky on "Paul Has An Emotional Uncle" - who woulda thunk it?

Often, when listening to the controlled madness of III, I found myself comparing it to some of Frank Zappa's more ambitious work. Like Zappa, some of the efforts are great successes, while others are great annoying failures. In the end, The Grassy Knoll seems to be trying too hard, and the formula tends to weaken as the album progresses on. I guess under different circumstances, tracks like "Thunder Ain't Rain" and "III" would be better, but not after I've been hit over the head with the same concepts throughout the whole album.

The biggest obstacle that you will face listening to III is getting used to their sound, which switches from unlistenable and weird to groovy and weird. If you're not used to such eclecticism in music, you're sure to fling down your headphones and run for the exits. However, if you give the album enough time, and you give yourself enough time to get into the unique rhythms that are being laid out in front of you, then you should find yourself past the most difficult part of the journey after one listen.

Ah, but there's the rub. III is not an album you are going to understand with just one listen. Instead, it challenges you to continue listening to it in order to develop your own appreciation of the music. Maybe you'll come to enjoy their use of samples; maybe it will be admiration for the saxophone work; maybe it will be astonishment over the constant blending of genres in the music. Whatever the case, most likely your reaction after one listen would be, "What the hell was that?"

Unfortunately for The Grassy Knoll, interest in ambient jazz is not like Hanson releasing a new album; it's not going to reach a high saturation point in the market. Pity, for while III is an album that is at times brilliant and other times frustrating, it is an experience that is worth taking repeatedly. Here's hoping someone gives them a chance; even if they open up the ears of a few new listeners, the album will have been worth everyone's time and money.

Rating: B-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Nettwerk / Verve Records, and is used for informational purposes only.