Brown Eyed Soul: The Sounds of East L.A., Volumes 1-3
Decked out with car dice and shots of Whittier Boulevard, this three-pack of low-rider music isn't solely the work of Latin artists. Rather, it's a collection of music embraced by the Latin community, which explains the inclusion of the Marvelettes, the Safaris, Bo Diddley, and Jesse Belvin alongside Thee Midnighters, Ritchie Valens, and El Chicano. Each volume splits time between all-out frat-rockers like the Blendells' "La La La La La" and doo-wop ballads such as "Please Baby Please" by Cannibal and the Headhunters.
These slow-moving tracks evoke what it must've felt like strolling empty L.A. streets on Sunday afternoon back when all the stores were closed and all the iron gates were pulled down. That Sunday kind of love is best evoked by Billy Stewart's "Sitting in the Park," which is included here amid some compelling sound-alikes (the Romancers' "My Heart Cries" and Thee Midnighters' "Dreaming Casually," to name two). If you're out to prolong that romantic mood, volume 2 works best. Volume 1 is a tad too heavy on Fifties doo-wop, much of which sounds pedestrian compared to the shimmer of later vocal-group works like Bloodstone's "Natural High," found on the more upbeat volume 3.
For most of us, ballet is like the restaurant where we have to wear a tie, order in a language we haven't spoken since high school, and enjoy the food without knowing exactly what we're eating. But for Wynton Marsalis it's just a cool place to hang out between his other high-profile gigs. It's not surprising that Marsalis's favorite food is gumbo, for his compositions here offer a strange and daring stew of American and European musical idioms. Both Jump Start: The Mastery of Melancholy and Jazz: 61/2 Syncopated Movements veer from moments of sad beauty to Ives-like strangeness, from marching-band tempos to blues to something recalling the scores of Ennio Morricone. Jazz begins with a light-hearted movement titled "Jubilo," but by the second movement, "Tick-Tock" (subtitled with a nod to Tchaikovsky as "Night Falls on Toyland"), we're in the middle of a thoroughly trippy New Orleans funeral. The last full movement, "Ragtime," is pure celebratory romp.
Jump Start is actually the jazzier of the two pieces, and more fun. Composed for choreographer Twyla Tharp, it's less a suite than a series of pieces built around different dance rhythms. Recalling the dance music of the Thirties and Forties, the first track, "Boogie Woogie Stomp," is exactly what its title says. Even when Marsalis looks for inspiration in an ancient Japanese musical genre, as he does in "Gagaku," it's not his musicologist's knowledge of non-Western music that impresses, but rather his willingness to loosen his tie, kick off his shoes, and make whatever music sounds good. -- Seth Hurwitz