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Aimee Mann
I'm With Stupid
(DGC)

Aimee Mann has been hauling her dented and dinged heart around for more than a decade now, pulling it out of a box for show-and-tell on three albums by her old band 'Til Tuesday, and on two solo records, 1993's remarkable Whatever and now the equally fine I'm With Stupid. Time and experience appear to have made her somewhat more wary of the romantic minefield than she was as a post-new-wave ingenue, although when she does take the plunge these days, she usually experiences the same deflating result. But even if love's pitfalls continue to vex Mann, at least she sounds as if she's resigned to the disappointments. Scarred and perhaps slightly smarter, Mann sings in her expressive alto: "I was hoping that you'd know better/But I've been wrong before" on the spare and affecting "Amateur," while on the loping, ringing "All Over Now," she sighs, "You can write the play/Every word I say/I don't have to stay to see the credits." And the album-closing "It's Not Safe," while pegged to her one-step-forward-two-steps-back career, best sums up her whole world-view: "You're the idiot who keeps believing in luck/And you just can't get it through your head that no one else gives a fuck."

Mann and producer/multi-instrumentalist/occasional songwriting partner Jon Brion have virtually eliminated the baroque flourishes that permeated Whatever in favor of a shuffling hip-pop reverberation on the album-opening "Long Shot" and her Melrose Place demi-hit "That's Just What You Are," and they strip down the aching ballad "You Could Make a Killing" and the cautionary tale "You're With Stupid Now" to only voice and minimal instrumental accompaniment, allowing her palpable melancholy to seep in. As always, she knows her way around a Velcro-like hook, evidenced here by the instantly hummable "Choice in the Matter," the crunching "Sugarcoated" (written with former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler), and the wall-of-slashing guitars "It's Not Safe." Wonderful throughout.

By Michael Yockel

Robert Ashley
Superior Seven/Tract
(New World)

Robert Ashley is a composer who uses the interface between live music and other media, notably television, to create works that are sometimes alienating, often beautiful, usually mysterious, and always thought-provoking. Most of his compositions include a sung or spoken text. Superior Seven/Tract contains two instrumental exceptions to that rule, although, as the composer explains in his notes to this release, there is an implicit linguistic background to both of them.

Superior Seven is a concerto for flute and orchestra A without the orchestra. Ashley calls the orchestral version "unplayable" because it requires the coordination of seven independent instrumental ensembles, with the conductor playing the role of mixer. Rather than letting this oddly composed music gather dust, Ashley prepared a version for flute (here played by Barbara Held) and MIDI technology. MIDI allows a computer to "play" a synthesizer with greater accuracy and complexity than any human could manage on any instrument. Harmonically, the piece has an unresolved quality that is sustained throughout its leisurely 30 minutes. Depending on your taste for musical open-endedness, Superior Seven will seem either profound or profoundly boring.

Much the same can be said of Tract, a work whose colors are warmer and more mournful, mainly because of its use of a multitracked human voice (in this case, baritone vocalist Thomas Buckner, a long-time Ashley collaborator). Because Tract is explicitly textless, the title is partly a joke, but the music's ominous edge suggests something much more serious.

By Raymond Tuttle

Henry Butler
For All Seasons
(Atlantic)

Firmly rooted in the stride piano style of his native New Orleans, pianist Henry Butler uses his Crescent City background as a jumping-off point rather than a raison d'àtre. Sure, he relies on the strong left-hand boogie style of Professor Longhair, but his right hand turns out improvised lines that soar atop the rhythmic bedrock derived from that city's most renowned music innovator. And Butler is not content to merely re-create old styles: Although his melodic insistence and technical prowess may call to mind lions such as Art Tatum and Erroll Garner, Butler forges ahead with exuberance and daring.

On his debut album for Atlantic, Butler is joined by the always innovative veteran jazz bassist Dave Holland and drummer Herman Jackson, who supply a heavy groove on the opener "Blues for All Seasons," a Butler original that fashions a template for the set. The trio's reading of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "How Insensitive" ingratiates itself with an infectious bass riff that weaves in and out of the tune as Butler dances around the melody. A solo stride-ride through W.C. Handy's chestnut "St. Louis Blues" reveals Butler's passion for improv, as he darts from one melodic idea to the next while never losing that walking Bourbon Street groove. "A Winter's Tale," the album's fourteen-minute centerpiece, conjures a variety of sonic moods -- some spiky and atonal, others joyful. Steve Turre guests on trombone on "Souvenir d'un Amor," adding a wistful, slightly melancholic feel to an otherwise uplifting vamp punctuated by Butler's bright, playful leads.

By Bob Weinberg

Afrika Bambaataa Presents Time Zone
Warlocks and Witches, Computer Chips, Microchips and You
(Profile)

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