january 2013 | Downbeat magazine | brad ferberman
Pancho Molina/Elias Meister
Open for Business
One of the thrills of Open for Business, the daring, playful debut from Chilean drummer Francisco 'Pancho' Molina and German guitarist Elias Meister, is in watching Meister as he morphs from track to track. On the album-opening 'Ulises', he drops a rubbery, unflappably rhythmic afrobeat riff. 'Ticket to Timbuktu' finds him starting his solo with crunchy, frustrated grunge-rock chords. 'Samurai Tale' calls for chicken-scratch funk patterns. And the Frisell-like 'Loose Blues' sends him soaring to greasy, down-home heights. Abetted by bassist Ben Street, keyboardist Leo Genovese, tenor saxophonist George Garzone and Molina, Meister sees each tune as an opportunity to be different six-stringer.
But not an overpowering vision. Even at its most unpredictable, Meister's playing never distracts from the other players or the tunes themselves. The tense 'Samurai Tale' is marked by a partially minimalist melody and a powerful Garzone solo that cycles through lazy long tones, avant-garde squiggling, thick r&b licks and unstable Coltrane queries. Built on an enigmatic 6/8 groove, Meister's 'Time Traveller' reveals a Fender Rhodes oration that bounces from sticky, stuttering lines to warm, mysterious hamonies and long, prickly rambles. 'Bedstuy Facilities,' so named for the Brooklyn apartment where Molina wrote his share of the compositions on Business, rides a sleazy swing beat through a hip, stylish head. And 'Loose Blues' lights a fire under its soloists in the form of Genovese's heated organ invocations. A reformed rock drummer - his old band, Los Tres, made platinum albums in Chile - Moline pointedly subtle throughout the album, prodding and pushing the band mates but never taking the center stage himself.
The standout cut is Meister's ballad 'All My Life,' which opens with just under a minute of gorgeous, droney solo guitar. Once things get moving, Garzone and Meister conjure different melodies simultaneously, each one caressing the other in a nostalgic dance.