"Jayou" appeared on this year's Lyricist Lounge compilation, as did contributions from young New York rappers Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Now the two, as a duo called Black Star, are gearing up for a debut EP scheduled for October release by the label Rawkus. If "Definition" (and an earlier collaboration, "Universal Magnetic," done under the name Reflection Eternal) is any indication, these two are destined for a well-deserved shot at a place in that as-yet-unconceived hall of fame.

While Jurassic 5 aims to put the "fun" back in hip-hop fundamentals like clever rhymes and original beats, Black Star uses the same techniques -- indelible rhyme melodies, greater rhythmic complexity -- without resorting to old-school nostalgia. Pressing ever forward, Mos Def sings "Definition"'s stirring, dancehall-reggae chorus ("One two three/It's kinda dangerous to be an MC/They shot Tupac and Biggie/Hold your head when the beat drop, why-oh!") with all the celebratory solemnity of a New Orleans funeral parade. (Rumble/Pickininny, P.O. Box 1816, Pacific Palisades, CA 90272; Rawkus, 676 Broadway, New York, NY 10012)

-- Adam Heimlich

John Scofield
A Go Go
(Verve)

John Scofield's latest CD was 1997's Quiet, a heavily orchestrated affair on which he played acoustic guitar. It was touted as an equal to the best of the Miles Davis/Gil Evans collaborations of the Fifties and Sixties. Well, it was no Sketches of Spain, but it did have a few pleasant and, er, quiet moments. But much of that record sounded like variations on the theme song from M.A.S.H. Maybe it was the fault of the Brecker brothers, who were featured prominently throughout the set. Like other journeymen jazzers of their ilk, the Breckers can be trusted to turn in tuneful but earnestly dull performances.

A Go Go marks Scofield's return to small-group recording and, yes, he plays electric guitar almost exclusively on this one. He also uses neohippie groove band Medeski, Martin & Wood as a backing group, a smart move for all parties concerned. Scofield's brief compositions rein in MM&W's natural tendency toward drifting, lengthy jams. A Go Go is being hyped as a Meters-style New Orleans groove thang, and there's certainly white-boy groove aplenty, but it all seems to work here. Scofield cools it on the excessive soloing that marred some of his earlier work, and he allows Medeski, Martin & Wood to carry the record almost on their own. Special kudos go to drummer Billy Martin, who updates original Meters drummer Zigaboo Modeliste's style and sound. Scofield has always had an ear for great drummers (e.g., Bill Stewart and Idris Muhammad on previous recordings) and Martin follows firmly in this mold. A return to form for John Scofield or the best Medeski, Martin & Wood album yet? Take your pick.

-- Ross Johnson

The Artist
Crystal Ball
(NPG Records)

The best way to describe Crystal Ball would be as a companion to 1987's opus Sign O' the Times -- think of it as discs three through five -- since most of the tracks were either culled from the Times sessions or recorded around the same time. The sawed-off funk on this set will soon make you forget the unevenness of recent efforts such as Chaos and Disorder, Come, and even Emancipation.

The hilarious "Cloreen Baconskin" is fourteen minutes of Prince in alter ego doing his damnedest to get drummer Morris Day to laugh and lose the beat. On the too funky "Days of Wild," the Artist shows he can still manage his greatest trick, self-reinvention, using his own recent battles with the record industry to rebond with his fans on a higher level, all as slaves to the spirit-killing capitalist system. "Crucial," originally slated to take the place of "Adore" on Sign O' the Times, is a classic falsetto ballad in the spirit of "Scandalous" or "Do Me, Baby." "Da Bang" is a punk/funk romp that exposes Chaos and Disorder for the fraud it was intended it to be. "Dream Factory," "Calhoun Square," and especially the tender "Last Heart" are Prince the master musician and visionary in full effect. The set presents Crystal Ball in its three-disc entirety; a fourth disc is an all-acoustic, unplugged-style presentation of new material. The package comes with a cool booklet, tiny by box-set standards but with an excitingly frank and rare look into the Artist's composing state of mind.

There was a moment in time when we all conceded that Michael Jordan was the greatest there's ever been. Crystal Ball is just that kind of moment, a reminder that if Prince Rogers Nelson can rule the world while keeping shit like this in the can, then obviously we have all severely underestimated his genius.

-- Jesse Ballinger

Grant Lee Buffalo
Jubilee
(Slash/Warner Bros.)

Fans of underground bands like Grant Lee Buffalo enjoy the fact that their favorite acts are still largely unknown by the general public. It's sort of a Christopher Columbus complex -- they want to feel like they're the ones who discovered a new world. But with the release of Jubilee, those fans just might have to share Grant Lee Buffalo with the rest of us.

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