Vernon Reid, perhaps best known as the guitarist from Living Colour, lends his considerable talents to this "debut" from Masque, a fusion trio on Steve Vai's Favored Nations label. It's Reid's invitation to shine: he spearheads almost a dozen freewheeling and free-ranging tracks, from reverb-heavy blues ballads ("Flatbush and Church") to post-psychedelia that would sound at home on an Urge album ("The Slouch" and the title track), if the Urge were still relevant (were they ever?). The blistering riffs typically associated with Reid come through on nearly every track, including a clever update of Thelonius Monk's "Brilliant Corners", whose piano-and-drums intermission provides us with some much-needed breathing room. Reid sails through the disc with confidence and an Eddie Van Halen-like knack for attacking each note and squeezing the life out of every riff, though he wisely shows more restraint in knowing when and when not
to showboat, especially on an album where he's sharing the marquee.
Masque -- Leon Greenbaum on keys, Hank Schroy on bass and Marlon Browden on drums -- prove without a doubt that they're capable of holding their own against Reid, manning the modal experiments on the natty "Outskirts" and the frenzied jam of "Down and Out in Kigali and Freetown". Echoes of Miles Davis, along with Steve Vai himself, abound. The guest spots by DJ Logic on "Voodoo Pimp Stroll" and the astounding "X the Unknown" come closest to fulfilling my own personal hopes for the disc -- farther down the funk and dub trail than anything else -- but the album works just as well. Known Unknown seems to change colors every time I hear it, forever pulsing and yet cool to the touch, something I can appreciate without being fully immersed in it. Then again, the patented Vernon Reid guitar squall may be best observed from a distance, so as to not catch fire from the flames licking the strings.