Jonas Hellborg’s music is as unique as his personal philosophies. The Swedish bass virtuoso and composer refuses to be bound by the rules of convention. He even rejects typical notions of creativity and improvisation and instead sees himself as one who simply reflects the earthly forces and realities that surround him.
The myriad of innovative musical journeys he’s embarked on serve as a testament to that outlook. Hellborg first hit the jazz scene in the early '80s. He quickly made a name for himself with his innovative bass playing that incorporates chordal, percussive and melodic approaches. After releasing a couple of solo albums, he was recruited to take part in Mahavishnu, an updated version of guitarist John McLaughlin's pioneering '70s fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra. During Mahavishnu’s existence from 1983 to 1988, Hellborg also worked with McLaughlin in a variety of duo and trio formats featuring drummers Billy Cobham and Trilok Gurtu.
During the early '90s, Hellborg collaborated with Bill Laswell on several recordings, including The Word, a solo effort featuring drummer Tony Williams and a string quartet. The pair also worked together on Material's boundary-breaking Hallucination Engine, Ginger Baker's thunderous Middle Passage, and two experimental funk releases by Deadline titled Dissident and Down by Law.
But it's Hellborg's recordings for his own Bardo and Day Eight labels that best showcase his talents. The labels comprise the bulk of his solo output and find him immersed in a multitude of acoustic and electric environments.
Solo bass releases, duo efforts with frame drummer Glen Velez, and trios featuring the likes of drummers Michael Shrieve and Apt. Q-258, and guitarists Buckethead and Shawn Lane are just a few of the labels' highlights. Lane, a highly influential player and composer in his own right, served as one of Hellborg’s longest-standing collaborators before his untimely death in September 2003 due to lung disease. Since the late ‘90s, one of Hellborg’s key interests has been exploring a unique hybrid of jazz and South Indian classical music. Most of that work has been done accompanied by Lane, who shared Hellborg’s desire to investigate Eastern sounds.
Their first Indian-flavored disc, 1999’s Zenhouse, was a beautiful, largely serene effort that offered their personal take on the raga form. “My interest in Indian music goes back to my teenage years of being a hippie,” explains Hellborg. “In the late '60s and early '70s, everyone was into Indian music such as the Beatles, Ravi Shankar and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. When I started playing seriously, I was into John McLaughlin. Then I started playing with him and meeting all these great Indian people. So, it's been an ongoing thing for me during my whole career. The first thing that’s obvious for a Westerner is the rhythmic complexity of the music. That was my initial attraction and fascination—the method, teaching, composing and understanding of rhythms. What also really struck me was the melodic aspect of the music, as well as the intricacies, ornamentation and variations.”
Hellborg’s next effort, 2000’s Good People in Times of Evil, represented a significant leap forward in his approach towards Indian music. Along with Lane, the record featured celebrated Indian percussion master V. Selvaganesh, the son of Vikku Vinayakram, an original member of Shakti. The results were stunning. The album’s singularly inventive and exhilarating musical dialogues cemented Hellborg’s reputation as one of modern music’s most original and intriguing voices. It also laid the groundwork for the equally impressive follow-up Icon, released in 2003. For that project, Hellborg also invited Selvaganesh’s brothers, vocalist V. Umamahesh and percussionist V. Umashankar, to take part. The quintet showcased an even more seamless integration between Western and Indian influences. With its dazzling group interplay, moments of spontaneous drama and graceful, ethereal passages, Icon represents the best of what’s possible within Indian fusion.
In the new century Hellborg has in addition to his ongoing work with V. Selvaganesh (latest release Kali’s Son with Sitar maestro Niladri Kumar) started a new Venture with Swedish guitar phenomenon Mattias “IA” Eklundh. Their musical vehicle is the group “Art Metal” juxtaposing Indian Music, “Jazz” with different newer forms of Metal.