Rotations

Originally released in 1982 as a double album, this new two-disc version of Live at the It Club restores some longer versions of songs that appeared in abbreviated form on that vinyl release and adds some never-before-heard material from the original. Recorded on two successive nights in the fall of 1964 at the legendary Los Angeles jazz venue the It Club, this set captures Monk on piano with his group: Charlie Rouse on tenor sax, Larry Gales on bass, and Ben Riley on drums. Although this release doesn't approach the heights of his best recorded work, it does serve as an interesting document of what Monk's quartet sounded like on a typical club date in the mid-Sixties. And what constituted typical club fare for Monk during that period was pretty damn good.

The quartet relies on what had become standards in Monk's live repertoire -- "Bemsha Swing," "Straight, No Chaser," "Rhythm-A-Ning," "Misterioso," "Round Midnight," and, of course, the set-closing "Epistrophy." No big surprises in the choice of material. The revelation comes when you hear how expertly Monk integrates himself as a band member. On earlier and later recordings in his career he often overwhelmed and overshadowed his sidemen in the recording studio and on the bandstand. To coin a cliche, you get a chance to hear democracy in action throughout It Club. Rouse, Gales, and Riley are his equals here, following and often anticipating Monk's frequent angular turns. Monk lays out a lot, letting the sax, bass, and drums stretch familiar songs into new dimensions. Even the bass and drum solos sound fresh. Nothing much you haven't heard before, but then it's all in the way you listen.

-- Ross Johnson

N'Dea Davenport
N'Dea Davenport
(V2)

It is fitting that this debut by the former Brand New Heavies vocalist ends with an inspired raveup featuring New Orleans's Rebirth Brass Band. Like the brass-band music at Donna's Bar and Grill, a nook of refuge from the madness of Bourbon Street, N'Dea Davenport overflows with exuberance and warmth, and the personality of the album is so winning and so uplifting that it overpowers any perceivable weaknesses, not that there are many.

In fact, it is undoubtedly because of the strength of this album that songs tackling big issues might seem thin lyrically. We expect them to say more, yet they are very satisfying musically. "When the Night Falls" sums up prostitution and addiction with the trite "It's kind of freaky," but the feeling Davenport gives those words is, appropriately, unrelieved anxiety and misery. The Daniel Lanois co-written "Real Life" seems content to point out that ageism and violence are bad things, but the pain in Davenport's voice is arresting.

That voice unifies everything here, which is saying a lot since this album brings together a huge chunk of pop music as a whole. The steamy funk of "Bring It On" (co-written by hot Atlanta producer Dallas Austin and musical ringer Colin Wolfe) flows seamlessly into the deep house "No Never Again," which is relieved by the ethereal electronica of "In Wonder." The album also extends its reach to the beautiful horn-driven blues balladry of "Save Your Love for Me" and finds its way to a cover of Neil Young's "Old Man." The freshness of Davenport's vocals making both sound so contemporary that the description "retro" would seem misplaced. Like a jazz technician whose heart lies in pop and soul, Davenport brings her considerable talents (which include the production of all but four cuts) to brilliant emotional focus every time out. The fire she lights is like manna from Heaven, or the warm touch of a friend.

-- Danny Alexander

The Kinks
Face to Face
(ESM/Castle)

Say hello to a lost classic. The shimmering jewel in the British Castle label's exhaustive excavation of the Kinks' back catalogue, Face to Face has been out of print in the United States for the better part of the three decades since its 1966 release. Which is too bad, because along with Revolver, The Who Sell Out, and Aftermath, Face to Face is both the finest album produced just after the early-Sixties British Invasion and the best piece of work of Kinks frontman Ray Davies' tragically overrated career.

Face to Face captures Davies' writing just before he succumbed completely to the construction of foppy set pieces and dancehall-derived character studies at the expense of scorching stompers ("You Really Got Me," "Till the End of the Day") and aching ballads à la "Set Me Free" and "I Need You." Which means there's a tough edge to the band's nascent psychedelia (witness "Rosie Won't You Please Come Home," with a popping bass melody and ominous twelve-string guitar) and an exploratory streak to the rockers (the slide-guitar-crazed "Holiday in Waikiki" and the delirious groove that propels "Most Exclusive Residence for Sale" and "You're Lookin' Fine"). And while the album is dominated by pop-gem minimovies -- the runaway in "Rosie," the creatively bereft "Session Man," the womanizing "Dandy," the hard-luck loser in "Sunny Afternoon" -- its centerpiece is the haunting "Too Much on My Mind"; it's among the usually aloof Davies' most confessional moments.

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