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John Paul Jones at the Park West

Chicago Sun-Times - October 21, 1999

Author: Jim DeRogatis

The sheer exuberance of catching and riding a hard-hitting groove is something that can't be faked, though many classic rockers try.

Over the course of a two-hour set at the Park West on Wednesday night, Led Zeppelin veteran John Paul Jones beamed with the sheer joy of rocking out, appearing more like a gonzo teenager than a 53-year-old rock icon and member of the Hall of Fame.

"Welcome to my first solo tour," Jones said early in the evening. But the humble greeting belied 40 years worth of experience as a composer, arranger and tasteful virtuoso on the bass and keyboards.

Throughout an 18-song set, Jones jumped back and forth between bass (including a one-of-a-kind eight-string model with lighted frets), keyboards, something called an electric mandola, and another unique invention called the bass lap steel. He also picked up a triple-neck acoustic for a folk-hootenanny rendition of "Gallows Pole."

Jones obliged the crowd with inspired interpretations of several Zeppelin standards: "No Quarter" became a jazzy idyll, "Trampled Under Foot" never sounded funkier, and "When the Levee Breaks" and "Black Dog" were delivered hard and straight, the better to emphasize their timeless power as the crowd provided the singalong vocals.

But this wasn't an evening about nostalgia, unlike recent forays by Jones' former bandmates Robert Plant and Jimmy Page. The bulk of the set list was devoted to material from Jones' first real solo album, " Zooma ," a collection of imaginative instrumentals.

With drummer Geoff Dugmore and Chapman Stick player Nick Beggs providing fluid accompaniment, the trio veered from sounding like "Discipline"-era King Crimson to James Brown's Famous Flames on steroids, and from a space-age funk combo to the sort of bombastic blues band perfected by Jones and his old mates.

On "Snake Eyes," Jones unfurled pedal steel riffs that could have made Page green with envy. Then he jumped over to the keyboards to play samples of the sort of lush and ornate string arrangements that he provided not only for Zeppelin, but also for Donovan, R.E.M., the Rolling Stones and others.

If a member of his generation performed a more vital and inspired piece of rock music in the '90s, I didn't hear it.

Chicago Sun-Times - February 3, 2002

John Paul Jones, "The Thunderthief" (Discipline Global Mobile) *** Rock

On what is only the second proper solo album in a storied five-decade career, former Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones offers up more of the patented heavy groovers that powered the all-instrumental " Zooma " (1999). But he also attempts to branch out a bit, adding vocals and some of Zep's lighter acoustic colorings, with mixed results.

It isn't hard to figure out why it took Jones more than 40 years to start singing: His Cockney croak isn't exactly easy on the ears. His vocals are silly but passable on the rollicking "Angry, Angry," and a bit embarrassing on "The Freedom Song," a pared-down, Celtic-flavored story-song that will have the faithful yearning for Robert Plant and Sandy Denny's "The Battle of Evermore."

The real reason anyone turns to a new album by Jones is, of course, that famous stomping rhythm, coupled with his undersung flair for imaginative arrangements. Elsewhere, on songs such as "Leafy Meadows," "Shibuya Bop" and the title track, he delivers the goods, continuing to outshine the recent offerings of his old bandmates with much less fanfare or ego.

Jim DeRogatis

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