Yeah, I know, it's not much of a title for a music
column, but you probably picked this guide up for free anyway, so
quit yer complainin'. Besides, it gives me a reason to start using
a ratings system (for all those who, like me, prefer a user friendly
precis option in their media reviews):
^^^^^= Five chips- The salsa's great and the chips are eternally
refreshed. Dunk at will and repeatedly. Own this.
^^^^ = Four chips- The chips are a wee tad more stale than you would
prefer. Enjoy the salsa, though, 'cause it's mighty tasty. You might
want to own this.
^^^ = Three chips- Salsa's less than perfectly fresh and the chips
are still stale. It adequately mimics the peach salsa experience,
but that very special something is missing. Borrow this at least.
^^ = Two chips- It physically resembles chips and salsa, but it
ain't it. Don't feel bad if you miss hearing this.
^ = One chip- It seems to resemble a foodstuff, but who knows what
it is anymore? If you must, crane your neck briefly to take notice
of this, as you would a car wreck on the highway.
_ = No chips- Better you eat cow chips than this. Avoid this and
warn your friends to avoid this. Please.
All set? Good. Now for this month's reviews.
The cruel truth about writing things for this program guide is that
things tend to fall through the deadline cracks. The items I review
for this issue will be, likely, a bit too old to qualify as truly
"new," given the: a) six weeks in advance publication
deadline, and b) the time needed to listen adequately to this music
on a volunteer basis (in other words, I NEED TO MAKE A LIVING AT
A REAL JOB, TOO!!).
(Sigh) Yet another case where mere economic and temporal realities
conspire to make me appear unhip.
So, if you've already heard these albums to death by now, forgive
me; print is a limping, though not quite dead, medium, as regards
Then again, if you wanted to just hear these tunes and more like
(and unlike) them (and not my expanded commentary on them), you
would probably wait until Friday night/ Saturday morning from midnight
to three to listen to "The Call It Thing Show." But please:
read, then listen, then decide, then support good music why doncha???
So here's the stuff:
If Chris Whitley displays a weakness as an artist in his latest
album, Rocket House (^^^^, ATO Records, 10/2001), it's that he is
not as consistently sparkling a writer as he is a gifted instrumentalist.
It's hard to truly dislike his lyric writing though, since he actually
seems to be writing from the heart about matters of love and faith.
Or, at least, his soulful vocal delivery puts that across with all
appropriate sincerity, even when he engages in the trifle cliched
hook now and then (i.e., "Say Goodbye to Yesterday").
And then there are the grooves. I mean, the GRRROOOOOVES
Whitley has been plying his musical trade for well over a decade,
through the genres of rock, folk (as when he spent time busking
in New York City as a teenager), blues and jazz - (for instance,
on Cassandra Wilson's Blue Light Til Dawn and New Moon Daughter,
as well as Grateful Dead bassist Rob Wasserman's Trios). He understands
how groove works, and he works it on Rocket House, with more than
able help from DJ Logic (himself no multi-genre slouch, working
with Uri Caine Ensemble, Medeski, Martin & Wood, moe., Vernon
Reid (on his one and only wonderful solo album, Mistaken Identity),
Sex Mob and even MTV-ready pop-singer Vitamin C). Logic knows what
to loop, how to loop and when. Of course, he's also employed another
young session guy by the name of Dave Matthews
Let's say you're here from another planet, and you're asking, "What
is this groove you speak of?" Well, for example, we could start
with the first track, "To Joy (Revolution of the Innocents),"
with tight rhythm work from producer Tony Mangurian (mainly knowable
for a lengthy association with Luscious Jackson, though he's also
worked with Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson). "To Joy" gets
its' groove out of a bag full of funky drumming, turntable scratches,
guitar whirrs and chirps and a funky banjo loop ("funky banjo"
being a term rarely used this side of, say, Bela Fleck, though certainly
The album wields the twin thematic swords of the materially funky
and the purely spiritual, Gospel and the Blues. It may rarely hit
the heights of Jeff Buckley's Grace, but musically these meditations
are more than listenable. "Solid Iron Heart" is a showcase
of Logic's turntable manipulations, quacking and whirring while
Whitley busts on bluesy, hallucinatory acoustic grooves worthy of
The groove concept is stretched a bit by the elastic, propulsive
rhythms of the title track, with its' appropriately spacey guitars
over a jerking, lunging rhythmic sputter. These lyrics are some
of the albums best, rejoicing in a very personal religious experience
of sorts: that of music ("All religions fall away/ I been running
for a hundred years/ but I always got someplace to pray").
Chuck Graning adds something like an eastern flavor on the fade
out with a blues-cum-Qawaali vocal abstraction.
"Vertical Desert" strives to be the poetically densest
track here (with lines like "the curved air of collapse and
creation/ the ballast of chaos and gravity's liberation's."
Oi!), but the electronic drum chugging and the touches of ambient
guitar and piano keep you listening. Groove, it seems, again saves
This album espouses that idea: grooves can save, music can save.
Perhaps that is the decider as far as whether you like this album
or not. With its' meditations on faith, love and music, it can seem
as hazy and vague as faith can be sometimes.
Hey, you're either feeling this album, or you're not. How's that
for an appropriately vague recommendation?
So what's with the I Am Sam soundtrack (Various Artists, V2 records,
^^^½)? Well, for starters, like so much recent Hollywood
product, or commentary or creativity, it lags sadly behind more
current events. No, I'm not speaking of September 11 here. What
I'm talking about is a whole album of Beatles covers and NO GEORGE
HARRISON TUNES? I know, the movie and soundtrack were probably very
much in the can by his November, 2001 death, but come on: in a way
isn't this another slap in the face, a posthumous continuance of
the syndrome that clouded proper consideration of the man's talents
for thirty something years? Always with the Beatles it's "Lennon/
McCartney" this and "Lennon/ McCartney" that. I mean,
Sinatra used to sing "Something" and talk about what a
great song Paul and John wrote. No room for "Something"
on this collection, folks? No "While My Guitar Gently Weeps,"
or "I Me Mine?" Not even "Norwegian Wood" (which,
granted, wasn't a Harrison composition, but at least would have
amply recalled the eastern music contributions of the man)?
That's problem number one for me. Number two is: an album like this
is bound to disappoint someone like me because it's an album full
of covers of music done so right the first time, and, unlike, say,
Downtown Does the Beatles: Live at the Knitting Factory, we're dealing
with pop artists. Admittedly, they're interesting ones, but nonetheless,
they are pop artists and they are trying to do tunes which were
done right the first time. The remaining charms in this album come
in the general qualities of the performances, and the daring of
the artists in, perhaps, taking the original and stretching things
to mutate the songs to their own artistic purposes.
Some do this merely by singing the tunes. Rufus Wainwright turns
in another excellent cover of "Across the Universe" (for
another one, you should seek out Laibach's Let It Be). Some tunes
seem to have presented themselves rather obviously, once an artist's
name popped up. Eddie Vetter? How about "You've Got to Hide
Your Love Away?" Nick Cave? Oh, he's got to "Let It Be."
Ben Folds? Oh, yeah, he's doing "Golden Slumbers."
But then there are ones I feel they could have avoided, maybe. Ben
Harper doing "Strawberry Fields Forever' is all fine and well
and nice, and the full-fledged production seems to be a skillful
recasting of the original's ideas, with arrangements for live instruments
and manipulations that once were achieved by tape manipulations.
It would nearly be superfluous if it weren't for that guitar solo
at the end. THAT rocked.
Similar problems crop up for me with the Black Crowes' version of
"Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds." The creativity seems
blunted by the foreknowledge that it's been approached very much
this way before, and better.
Sarah McLachlan doing "Blackbird," Sheryl Crow with "Mother
Nature's Son" and Heather Nova's "We Can Work It Out"
are excellent vocally, and the arrangements are nice and recall
the original, but
well, that's the problem. Where they differ,
the differences are nice, but are these tiny nice differences enough
to justify the exercise?
A couple of these are really sub-par, though, beyond any doubt.
The Vines cover "I'm Only Sleeping," without much real
feeling, and I get the feeling they're only here because Third Eye
Blind was unavailable. The Wallflowers have committed some interesting
songs to CD. Their cover of "I'm Looking Though You" isn't
one of them, and, again, can only suffer in comparison.
All that said there are wonderful tracks to be heard here, Aimee
Mann and Michael Penn's version of "Two of Us" is very
nice, and Stereophonics deliver a well-felt version of "Don't
Let Me Down." I was hoping for a full band with Paul Westerberg
on "Nowhere Man," but his solo acoustics fill the bill
adequately. Howie Day unplugs "Help!' and gives the Lennon
classic new room to breathe, and Grandaddyhas good fun deconstructing
and reconstructing "Revolution."
The real stand out, though, is Chocolate Genius's reworking of "Julia."
In a full band arrangement (unlike the original), he delivers his
phased vocals with a good feel for the song, and the arrangement
builds with shimmery wah-wah guitars and harmonica stirring up to
the fade out. Lovely.
O.K., I have to admit, most of this is quite listenable. And the
CD was recorded by all involved, from start to finish in three weeks
(or so the notes tell us). But surely with all this talent and material
to work with, couldn't such a project have been better than generally
I'm cranky. I'm going to bed now.
If you're reading this in the first days of March:
Hey! Please remember that Marathon is in progress! Please pledge
Or, if you read this later on:
Hey! Thanks for your support in Marathon! We made our goal or came
darn close thanks to you! Now please send us your money and fulfill
Or, if you're reading this in the year 3000:
Hey! There was this thing called radio back before we could travel
through time for entertainment! You kids and your dad-blasted TARDISes
Until next time, keep your feet. And thanks.
Abdulla Ibrahim with the NDR Big Band: Ekapa Lodumo - ENJA Records
By Chuck Obuchowski
Despite its U.S. origins, jazz music has always displayed an uncanny
ability to absorb influences from every corner of the globe while
still retaining its own essence. This--and its heritage in the diverse
musical traditions of Africa and Europe--qualify jazz as history's
first true example of "world music." Abdulla Ibrahim embodies
that world music connection in virtually every aspect of his art.
As a child in Cape Town, South Africa, he was exposed to a plethora
of musical styles during his travels throughout the bustling seaport.
He studied African folk and pop genres, but Ibrahim also fell under
the spell of jazz while listening to records he'd purchased from
American sailors. At 28, he left his native country to escape the
madness of apartheid. Duke Ellington heard him in Zurich and was
impressed enough to finance a recording and land him a gig at the
famed Newport Jazz Festival. Ibrahim eventually settled in New York
City, but his compositions never lost the euphoric rhythmic drive
nor the meditative, spiritual qualities associated with his culture's
Ekapa Lodumo finds the 67-year-old pianist more comfortable than
ever with his role as global sound griot. This recording documents
a concert that paired Ibrahim with one of the finest jazz orchestras
in the world, Germany's NDR Big Band. The program amounts to a live
greatest-hits package from South Africa's reigning jazz elder statesman
(he happily returned to his homeland when apartheid was abolished).
Thanks to brilliant arrangements by Steve Gray (of England) and
Fritz Pauer (of Austria), the leader's compositions are given more
room to breathe than ever before. And the NDR soloists take full
advantage of the space, spurred on by Ibrahim's emotive keyboard
This music merits a careful listen; you'd be hard-pressed to find
a better antidote to the prevailing attitude of suspicion and paranoia
surrounding those who look, sound or act "differently"
than us (whomever "us" might be!). Listen with your heart,
and experience the power that people of diverse cultures exhibit
when they come together to pursue a common, peaceful goal - in this
case, celebrating the exciting creation of new sounds through the
union of many musical traditions and unique instrumental voices.
Bobby Previte & Bump: Just Add Water - Palmetto Records - By
Start with one deft jazz drummer; flavor with exceptional composing
skills, a wild imagination and an unquenchable thirst for variety.
Add five equally imaginative, equally capable sidemen. Send the
gang to Europe a few times to allow the mixture to gel. Finally,
plop 'em down in the Maggie's Farm studios, and Just Add Water.
Voila - a brand new CD by Bobby Previte's Bump the Renaissance!
Bump or not, Previte has proved quite the Renaissance man himself
since he burst onto the New York downtown scene some two decades
ago. During that time he's recorded about 20 albums as a leader,
and guested on over 50 others. His resume includes gigs with poets,
contemporary chamber groups and the Moscow Circus, in addition to
more "typical" jazz aggregations. At present, he leads
or co-leads no fewer than six ensembles, including a trio with saxman
Greg Osby and guitarist Charlie Hunter that plays its first gig
April 4 at the Knitting Factory.
For all his talents, Previte remains a relatively obscure figure
on the current jazz scene. Of course, his passion for experimentation
hasn't exactly helped his standing on the Billboard charts or in
Downbeat Readers Polls. Yet, as Just Add Water shows, this man can
swing with the best of them. From the gritty funk of "53 Maserati"
to the late-night romance of "Nice Try," this recording
beckons the listener to stay tuned. Fans of Previte's more "edgy"
work will, however, be happy to know that there are enough "subversive
elements" (quoting Don Byron) to keep them entertained as well.
How could it be otherwise, with envelope-pushing veterans like Marty
Ehrlich, Ray Anderson and Wayne Horvitz aboard? The presence of
electric bass pioneer Steve Swallow is another bonus, although sadly,
his warm, lyrical tones are sometimes lost in the mix here. Still,
this just may be the release that finally brings Bobby Previte the
attention he has long deserved. In an age of copycats and poseurs,
it's a blessing to hear genuine individualists who still believe
in pursuing "the sound of surprise" that has given jazz
such vitality during its first century
Copyright©WWUH: March/April Program