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Derek Bailey, Pat Metheny, Gregg Bendian & Paul Wertico - The Sign Of 4


Entertainment Weekly

British avant-guitarist Derek Bailey hooks up with Pat Metheny and drummers Paul Wertico and Gregg Bendian, who lend percussive thunder. It's all about the aesthetics of extremes; atonal, improvised caterwauling recorded live and in the studio. A headbanging delight. - A-


An exciting, even historic, display of extemporaneous music making.


Don't worry about Derek Bailey going mainstream. He hasn't abandoned his doggedly individual, uncompromising approach to the guitar in search of mass-market acceptance. These provacative, somewhat crazed encounters with Pat Metheny occur on Bailey's turf, drawing the younger guitarist further into the wilds of improvised music. For Bailey, these live and studio sessions expose his spikey, unpredictable logic to legions of Metheny fans as yet unfamiliar with the spontaneous combustion of collective improvisation. For Metheny, The Sign Of 4 completes the outward-bound trajectory that started with Song X and continued with the industrial-strength Zero Tolerance For Silence, recalling the turbulence and frenzy of both projects. Most tracks feature electric guitars, and Metheny proves to be a good foil for Bailey, supplying a linear approach and a piercing wail to complement Bailey's clipped phrases and overheated squalls. Metheny's serious commitment to free playing is immediately evident, starting with the howling, punishing solo that occupies much of the hour-long "A Study In Scarlet." Bailey responds to Metheny's assault with churning, distorted waves of noise, while the drummers Gregg Bendian and Paul Wertico attack their instruments without respite, playing anything and everything but a steady groove. The remaining sessions are more varied, ranging from spacious, calm interludes to raging exchanges among drummers and guitarists, with the most ambitious improvisations, including "Fortune," "Tracks" and "In The Quest Of A Solution," embracing both extremes. The studio session, titled "The Science Of Deduction," is best of all, with acoustic tracks such as "Strange Story" and "The Aurora" making use of Bendian's vibes and ethnic percussion to shape the quietly mysterious interactions of Bailey and Metheny. Most of the improvisations succeed in drawing the listener into the vortex of the activity and communicating a sense of group motion and common purpose. The three-CD set is inexpensive, priced to encourage risk-takers and thrill-seekers. New facets and inter-relationships are sure to emerge after repeated listenings. - Four Stars!

The Boston Phoenix

The music is a big, ugly blood clot.

Jazz Times

Only a few of the thousands of CDs hyped and raved about each year in jazz magazines are truly provocative, in that they undermine the often ossified consensus about an artist's work or the locked-step party line on a style or genre of music. The 3-CD The Sign Of 4 is such an album.

Rolling Stone

...alien harmonic schemes, outbreaks of convulsive, distortion-laden violence and surprising passages of low-gravity, tonal serenity...

The Tucson Weekly

Pity the pop-jazz Metheny fan who drops dinero on this exceptionally cacophanous outing. This stuff is so far out that many of those who lauded Song X, the guitarist's album with Ornette Coleman, will be rushing it down to the used CD stores after hearing only the first of the three discs. Bailey is one of the patriarchs of avant garde guitar playing, and Metheny does well in matching his abrasiveness fret for fret. Bendian and Wertico (the latter is the Metheny group's regular drummer) supply the rest of the assault. It's wonderfully aggressive stuff that both introduces Bailey to a larger audience and further proves Metheny's uncanny ability to excel at playing just about any style. If you categorized your CD collection from smooth to sandpaper rather than from A to Z, this would go in that slot where Zappa and zydeco music used to be. If you're inclined to write it off as mere noise, you're overlooking the intensity and cohesion these guys display.

Creative Loafing Online - Atlanta

It's been a decade since Metheny surprised the world -- or at least real jazz fans -- by collaborating with Ornette Coleman, especially since he certainly held his own in such company. And though he did pressure Geffen into releasing an album of noisy guitar pieces a few years back, the mere idea of Metheny playing with free improv guitarist Derek Bailey seemed like a joke of some kind. It wasn't. The quartet, filled out with percussionists Bendian and Wertico, got together last December for a couple of live dates and some studio recording, which is now available on this three-CD set (priced less than most two-CD sets). Though it's certainly not the revelation that Metheny's Ornette album was and though Bailey has made better records, The Sign of Four has plenty of worthwhile moments. The studio tracks are by far the strongest. Not only are they shorter and more focused but the addition of acoustic guitars alongside marimbas, cowbells and less familiar percussion provides welcome contrasts. The musicians seem intent on surprising each other without grandstanding. The two discs of live material are less consistent. Metheny hasn't entirely grasped the idea behind free improv; he seems to think it's mainly about creating as much racket as possible. Admittedly there are some free musicians with the same misunderstanding but Metheny has a tendency to charge through the music with loud roars and chattering riffs. Bailey and the percussionists are experienced enough to deal with this freewheeling approach and can provide a rough context on the spur of the moment, which is what free playing is all about. When Metheny calms down enough to listen to the others, the entire quartet conjures up music of invention and surprise. The Sign of Four isn't quite the unpredictable blend of musical approaches that the situation may have promised but it's strong enough, with a real sense of adventure. For Bailey, it's yet another installment in a career that's run from Brazillian percussionists to tap dancers to drum 'n' bass. We can only hope that Metheny keeps challenging himself with such uncommercial projects.

Downtown Music Gallery

The Bailey/Metheny Qt. 3cd set is astounding on many levels. Recorded only 5 months ago, the packaging, production & over 3 hours of cosmic improv included are solid throughout. Disc one is an hour long noise storm, molten & focused, with mind frying guitars. Disc two is all studio improv & disc three, much different live improv sets that unfold slowly showing softer & more precious sounds. A steal at $20!!

CMJ New Music Report

This three-CD set is not something to be taken lightly. Derek Bailey is a preeminent experimental guitarist and theoretician. To this project he brings impeccable credentials, chops and percussionist Gregg Bendian. Pat Metheny needs no introduction; in recent years, he has proven that he's capable of moving beyond the bubble gum fusion that your parents enjoyed in the '80s. The Sign Of 4 was recorded over a frenzied four-day period in which the group spent two nights in the studio and two nights in the main space of the Knitting Factory. Such magnitude could provoke a lengthy explanation, since even playing it beginning to end would take half an afternoon. The first CD is a 62-minute avalanche in which guitars scream and percussion erupts. Though it contains some intense moments, the second CD is more user-friendly, with the guitarists taking a more subtle direction in their conversation. Similarly, the percussionists also explore a quieter side, yet they are also responsible for one of the disc's highlights: the freight train-like "Tracks." Disc three picks up where the first one left off, and builds to an amazing conclusion. The Sign Of 4 explores the loud and the quiet with the restless hunger of four adventurers in musical conversation without a net.

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