by Fritz von Trath
Jonas Hellborg's command of his instrument flabbergasted musicians when he came out of Sweden in the early 1980's, his gleefully flamboyant virtuosity made the more startling by his punk stage presence. When Jonas soloed, white flags were waved across fusiondom. He may have been a rock musician, initially--to a considerable extent he still is--but he cornered all those slumming jazz cats in matters of improvisational daring and originality. He was fast, of course (how many other bass players could play unisons with full-tilt McLaughlin), but of greater interest were the ways in which his slap technique, his lead lines, and his revolutionary chordal approach all served to extend his instruments potential. He stressed that he was a bass guitarist, rather than an electric bassist, but some of the techniques he was incorperating transcended guitar, too. The wider chords, for example, pointed toward a keyboard-like role for the bass, and reflected upon his studies of McCoy Tyner's music. The intervallic leaps in his solo's had almost as much to do with Coltrane as with Hendrix and were scarcely related to traditional bass technique at all. Jonas had learned from the forgotten Back Door bass guitarist Colin Hodgkinson. Otherwise, on his chosen instrument he was his own man entirely.
Jonas Hellborg was born 1958 in Gothenburg, Sweden. He taught himself to play the bass at age 12. Influenced by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Deep Purple, Hellborg played mainly blues and Heavy Rock. In 1972 he heard a record that changed his perception of music. This album, The Inner Mounting Flame, by the Mahavishnu Orchestra (Featuring English guitarist John McLaughlin) would not only influence his music, but his career as well. Formal studies in jazz and classical music started at the age of sixteen. At this time he became involved with a free form group. He listened to Albert Ayler, John Coltrane. He studied Miles Davis' development from the early part of his career through the beginning of the seventies when Davis produced, In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew. In this context, Hellborg rediscovered John McLaughlin. McLaughlin would serve as the main influence for Hellborg who was exploring a jazz/rock idiom by playing small clubs in the south of Sweden.
Dissatisfied with the various rock groups he had been touring with, Hellborg turned to more challenging music and solo concerts. In 1981, he was invited to play at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Michael Brecker was impressed by Hellborg's playing there and introduced him to many of the jazz greats including his long-time idol John McLaughlin. Hellborg sent him some tapes of his music. Later in 1981, Brecker invited Hellborg to New York to open for Steps at several club dates.
Upon his return from the United States, Hellborg was approached by percussion great, Reebop Kwaku Baah of Traffic fame. The two worked for a year in London on a recording project that was halted by Reebop's tragic death in the latter part of 1982. Hellborg went back to London to complete this album entitled Melodies in a Jungle Man's Head in February 1983.
In 1982 Hellborg created his own record label, Day Eight, in order to allow himself and others to record with full artistic freedom. The first record was Hellborg's first solo bass release, The Bassic Thing. In may 1983, Hellborg joined avant-garde pianist Michael J Smith and drummer Michael Shrieve (of Santana fame) to record Day Eight's second release, All Our Steps. Shortly after this McLaughlin invited Hellborg to join the reforming Mahavishnu Orchestra. The first performance Hellborg did with McLaughlin was a television show in Paris where they played in trio with Billy Cobham on drums. Early 1984 saw the addition of saxman Bill Evans and Keyboardist Mitch Forman and the group released the self titled album Mahavishnu. At the same time Hellborg released his second solo bass album Elegant Punk. Before the first Mahavishnu tour ex-Pat Metheny Group drummer Danny Gottlieb replaced Billy Cobham, the group completed two World tours.
In 1984, at the start of Mahavishnu's US tour, Hellborg was introduced to Bill Laswell by Michael Shrieve. At the time Laswell was recording Deadline's Down by Law, and invited Hellborg to play on it. The next year Laswell dug Ginger Baker out of retirement in Italy, and had him play on PIL's new record. Passing through New York on tour again Hellborg also contributed to this album entitled Album.
In 1985 Hellborg and McLaughlin started playing duet concerts. In an effort to explore a different musical mood, the two created an intimate chamber music kind of jazz/funk that was almost classical in it's texture. Additionally, that same year, Hellborg recorded AXIS with Parliament/Funkadelic keyboardist Bernie Worrell, singer Bernard Fowler and drummer Anton Fier.
1986 saw the release of the second Mahavishnu album, Adventures in Radioland (recorded in Milan, Italy) and another world tour. In 1987, McLaughlin-Hellborg duo toured throughout Japan, the US and Europe. Later the same year Hellborg teamed up with Worrell and Ginger Baker to record BASS and tour Europe.
In 1988 McLaughlin and Hellborg was joined by Indian percussionist Trilok Gurtu for a tour of the US. After this tour Hellborg left McLaughlin, moved to New York and formed his own trio with Turkish keyboardist Aydin Esen and drummer Kenwood Dennard. This first incarnation of the Jonas Hellborg Group toured Europe doing concerts and TV shows but did no recording. The second version was formed with keyboard player Jens Johansson and drummer Anders Johansson both from Yngwie Malmsteens Rising Force. In 1990 Jens joined DIO for a record and a tour. During this time Hellborg toured and recorded a record with an experimental group consisting of two bass players and a drummer playing only electronic drums.
In 1990 Hellborg and Laswell created the Greenpoint Recording Studio in New York. They also worked together on several recordings. Hellborg played on the Laswell produced Ginger Baker Middle Passage. In 1991 they collaborated on Deadline Dissident and Laswell produced Hellborg's The Word a record where Hellborg and drummer Tony Williams are backed by a string quartet. This album is also the first feature of a unique instrument that Hellborg took delivery of in 1989, the Wechter acoustic bass guitar. Built by luthier Abraham Wechter between 1986-1989. This instrument was also used to record Hellborg's third solo bass album, The Silent Life.
Hellborg produced Jens Johansson's Fjäderlösa Tvåfotingar and Ginger Baker's Unseen Rain 1991. In early 1992 Hellborg/Baker/ Johansson toured Europe. Hellborg recorded four records in 92 , RAF, Ode to a Tractor (Feat. Laswell and Peter Brotzman), Shining Path, No Other World (feat. Gary "Mudbone" Cooper), Anders Johansson, Shu-Tka, and an album with Michael Shrieve and Buckethead entitled Octaves of the Holy Innocents. In January 93 Hellborg moved to Paris had a year off from recording and toured extensively, doing solo concerts, toured with a group of middle eastern musicians, with Michael Shrieve, playing duos with several different percussionists and concerts together with the two Johansson Brothers.
In 1994 H. recorded two new albums, Ars Moriende, a duet record with the New York based frame drum player and percussionist Glen Velez. and Abstract Logic with guitarist Shawn Lane and drummer Kofi Baker. He also worked on pieces for string quartet and a suite for Cello and Piano called Hell Bop which had its first performance at a concert at the Swedish Culture Centre in Paris.
1995 took Hellborg to China in January for recordings with different Chinese musicians including flute player Du Ci Wen. This was followed by recordings with Michael Shrieve and Shawn Lane. Lane together with Anders Johansson joined Hellborg for a tour of China September a first for a western "fusion" group. The Swedish National Ballet Company Cullberg Balleten decided to use music from the record Ode to a Tractor for a piece choreographed by Lars Max Bethke
As a leader:
Elegant Punk DEM 004 Axis DEM 006 Bass DEM 009 Adfa DEM 020 Jonas Hellborg Group DEM 025 The Silent Life DEM 026 "E" DEM 033 Ars Moriende DEM 034 Abstract Logic DEM 035 Temporal Analogues of Paradise DEM 036 The Word AXIOM422-848374
Mahavishnu WB251351-1 Adventures in Radioland DEM/SOS 020
Down By Law CELL 6111 Dissident DEM 027
Hallucination Engine Axiom
With Michael J Smith:
All Our Steps DEM 002 Faces DEM 008
With Trilok Gurtu:
Usfret CMP CD 33
With Ginger Baker:
Middle Passage AXIOM Unseen Rain DEM 028
With Jens Johansson:
Fjäderlösa Tvåfotingar AMCD 872
Melodies in a Jungle man's head DEM 021
Ode to a Tractor DEM 030
With Shining Path:
No Other World DEM 029
With Michael Shrieve and Buckethead:
Octave of the holy Innocents DEM 032
With Michael Shrieve and Shawn Lane
Two Doors CMP
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