-- Frank-John Hadley

The Friends of Dean Martinez
The Shadow of Your Smile
(Sub Pop)

It's official: The lounge revival has gone bad. You know the trend has turned sour when a hapless quintet from Tucson lets thirteen mostly original instrumental tracks die on the vine in the name of -- who knows, amateur night at the local Holiday Inn?

It was supposed to be in the name of Dean Martin, whose un-Hispanicized name was originally part of the band's. But Martin's people threatened to sic Sinatra's legal department on the group, so Sub Pop and the band backed off, changed their name to this Southwesternly tangy tag, and blasphemed away.

Well, okay, anyone who's listened to Dean Martin's Greatest Hits all the way through can't seriously speak of blasphemy, but you can hear the sound of the bandwagon rumbling all over this disc, cutesy "Secret Agent Man" medley and all. Let the record show I'm a fan of the cocktail genre in the hands of an old master like Esquivel, or even a sharp nuevo combo such as Combustible Edison, but this is a lazy in-joke that plods along as if even the musicians knew the gag is stale. Some might try to salvage this swill as mood music. Actually, bad-mood music is more like it.

-- Brad Tyer

John Adams
Violin Concerto: Shaker Loops
(Nonesuch)

In less than twenty years, John Adams has gone from a minimalist composer of largely regional interest to one of contemporary classical music's Big Names. This new album illustrates both points of that evolution. Shaker Loops, written for string septet in 1977 and later arranged for string orchestra, brought him to the attention of a larger public when it was released by San Francisco's progressive New Albion label. Not long after, Adams's compositional talent was spotted by Nonesuch, the label that has released most of his music ever since. The 1994 Violin Concerto is one of his newest major compositions.

The contrast between the two works is striking. The restless Shaker Loops is an unquestioned minimalist classic. Its title is an allusion to the religious sect and its ecstatic dancing, and also to the music technique of trilling between two adjacent notes. Early minimalism's ascetic limitations and capacity to entrance listeners matched the work's title perfectly, and Adams, after much early struggling, put together a 24-minute work of considerable intensity and allure. Its effect is not weakened by the version for string orchestra that is presented here.

The Violin Concerto is not likely to share the popular appeal of Shaker Loops. In the intervening years, Adams cut away many of minimalism's shackles and developed a language that is freer and more diffuse. In his program notes, Adams uses the analogy of "a long Chinese scroll" to describe the orchestral part, but the same can be said of the violinist's contributions -- the soloist hardly gets a break from the composer, who prescribes a seemingly endless series of notes. The first movement slowly builds in intensity but never reaches a climax, and the second treads too close to new age. Sparks are struck in the last movement, which finally reveals some of Adams's droll humor. Technical demands are very high throughout.

The performances here are excellent. Shaker Loops is played by the Orchestra of St. Luke's, conducted by the composer. Gidon Kremer is the brilliant soloist in the Violin Concerto; Kenty Nagano and the London Symphony Orchestra are his partners.

-- Raymond Tuttle

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