Al Green
Your Heart's in Good Hands

Even with his Seventies hits inspiring everyone from Dwight Yoakam to film directors such as Quentin Tarantino and the Hughes brothers (Allen and Albert, of Menace II Society fame), Al Green still has to compete with the likes of Michael Bolton and Amy Grant on pop radio these days. His first full-length secular disc since 1978's Truth 'n' Time retools the two-year-old import-only Don't Look Back by adding collaborations with Whitney Houston cohort Narada Michael Walden and Jodeci's DeVante to the mix.

Don't let the ultra-mainstream names scare you off, however. While Your Heart's in Good Hands lacks the idiosyncrasies of Green's best albums, the thought of its positivity and genuineness taking a place on the airwaves next to Bolton's drivel is welcome. The songs, mostly co-written by Green, aren't spectacular, although the hope of "Love Is a Beautiful Thing" and DeVante's "Could This Be the Love" is sweet. Green's commitment and playfulness, particularly on "Keep on Pushing Love," confirm that this is indeed the mighty Al. And just so you don't miss one of his levels of meaning, the Reverend name-checks the Lord at least once.

By Rickey Wright

The Funky Descendant

With all the gimmicks that have been used to sell hip-hop -- gangster rap, jazz rap, Irish rap, kung-fu rap -- it seems about the only thing we haven't heard is Beethoven rap. Ridiculous as it sounds, enter Hami -- "the funky descendant" of Ludwig van -- with a debut album that introduces the sonata and concerto into the mix of a heavy West Coast Seventies funk groove. But while Hami's classical chops are dubious at best, his tremendous musical ability is without question.

Hami's name may be new, but his sound is not. L.A.-born and -raised Marquis Andrews-Dair (Hami) plays a mess of instruments -- from flute and violin to guitar, bass, and drums -- and for years has helped lay down fat tracks (though uncredited) for acts such as N.W.A., Ice Cube, Too $hort, and Easy-E. The Funky Descendant, Hami's grand coming-out party, reveals a musician with Prince-like depth, one who can rap, scat, and croon -- sometimes all at once -- and who can lead us through elegant acid jazz, syrupy but convincing R&B, and bottom-heavy hardcore hip-hop (yes, some classical too) with the surety of an urban musical tour director.

Unfortunately, The Funky Descendant has fallen on deaf ears -- as Hami prophesies on the album's "I'm tha' One Ya' Slept On" A since its release early this summer. Meanwhile the young talent has taken on hackwork as the sidekick/one-man band on the floundering late-night talkfest The Stephanie Miller Show. He deserves much better. Alas, even great-great-great-great-granddaddy Beethoven went unappreciated in his time.

By Roni Sarig

Deep Listening Band

The members of the Deep Listening Band have gone to extremes to find exciting new sounds for their contemporary classical music. In the past, Stuart Dempster, one of the most lyrical trombonists you'll hear anywhere, has wandered through European abbeys in search of eternal reverberation, and he and Pauline Oliveros, earth mother of the avant-garde classical accordion, have literally gone down a well for notes that never die. On Sanctuary, they go no farther than Trinity Methodist Church in Kingston, New York, where they are joined by organist David Gamper, and the effects are equally "deep," emotionally speaking, and long-lasting.

This CD can be used for secular meditation or spiritual reflection, but only very casual listeners will find it truly sedating, since the music is so interesting. "Invocation" and "Processional" were recorded in January 1993 with Julie Lyon Balliet, whose vocal contributions include coldly ethereal melodies and sharp yips. For me, these pieces conjure up images of howling wolves and wintry quiet . . . on the planet Uranus. The dreamlike "Hi Bali, Hi" and "Sanctuary" use Gamper's "expanded instrument system," which allows the musicians to clone their real-time performances while playing them; these clones can then be modified and interact with each other, adding to the complexity of the music's texture. Finally, "Non Stop Flight" was recorded live in January of last year during a benefit concert. The twenty-minute excerpt released here features a number of guest artists engaging in "intercultural improvisation" within a classical framework.

That's really true of everything on this disc, which goes from African and Brazilian percussion to the Australian didgeridoo without skipping a beat. How it all adds up to such a compelling listening experience is a mystery to me, but I'm willing to leave that mystery unsolved. Sanctuary is a sanctuary for nontraditional classical music at its best.

By Raymond Tuttle

Mem Shannon
A Cab Driver's Blues

In the liner notes to Mem Shannon's Cab Driver's Blues, down there at the bottom where they tell you where the music was recorded, you'll read the following: "Additional recording: Passenger compartment, 1976 Oldsmobile Delta 88 custom 4-door sedan." It may sound gimmicky, interspersing bits of dialogue between a cabbie and his passengers with musical tracks, but the characters -- recorded by Shannon, who drives a cab in New Orleans and supplies the resonant, baritone parts of the conversations -- are so riveting that you don't mind their coming along for the ride.

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