Miles Davis/Bill Laswell
Panthalassa: The Music of Miles Davis 1969-1974
Listening to Bill Laswell remix, reconstruct, and recycle the work of trumpet legend Miles Davis on Panthalassa brings to mind Natalie Cole dueting with her long-dead father Nat King Cole at the Grammys a few years ago. Dead men, of course, have no say over how and by whom they're exploited. But unlike Natalie's video resurrection of her dad, there is no familial connection here -- only aural opportunism by a long-time fan.
On Panthalassa (the title refers to an ancient mythical ocean), Laswell strings together generic keyboard washes and tired world beats with fragments of tunes that originally appeared on In a Silent Way, On the Corner, and Get Up with It, three albums from Davis's vastly influential "electric" period of the late Sixties and early Seventies. Davis's electric music, a challenging mix of rock instrumentation and jazz song structure, shocked jazz purists at the time, and spawned legions of jazz-rock imitators such as Weather Report. The justification for tinkering with such seminal material stems from the fact that Davis's producer, Teo Macero, routinely edited lengthy performances by Davis and his bandmates -- guitarist John McLaughlin, drummer Tony Williams, and keyboardists Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, among many others -- into separate tunes.
But stripping elements from the three albums and pasting them together with canned ambiance and sampled rhythm tracks hardly qualifies as an improvement. While Panthalassa may flow better than the records from which it's culled, ultimately it sounds a little too much like Laswell's band Material, a rock band with jazz pretensions.
It may be revisionist history, postmodernism gone awry, or technology run amuck, but Laswell's "reconstruction and mix translation" (as it's termed here) of Davis's music hardly seems fair. When Laswell passes away, he should watch out -- Davis will likely be waiting for him. The story goes that the trumpet player once said he'd like to spend the last few minutes of his life strangling a white man. Maybe that wish can be fulfilled postmortem.
-- John Lewis
A CD-release party for Panthalassa will be held at 11:00 tonight (Thursday, May 14) at Groove Jet, 323 23rd St, Miami Beach; 532-2002. Cover charge is $10.
Austin-based songwriter David Garza has released eleven albums on his own Wide Open Records and has toured the country in support of them for a decade. The result is an assuredness of vision that marks this major-label debut as a small masterpiece.
The music on This Euphoria is tuneful enough to fall under the general heading of pop, but far more nuanced than that tag implies -- it is filled with quirky instrumentals, syncopated beats, and moody tension that Garza conveys by playing his ethereal voice against his sinuous guitar work. The slinky title track matches John Thomasson's bubbling upright bass with Chris Searle's crisp bongo riffs and Garza's dreamy warbling. "Lost" is a wispy lament that showcases Garza on the lap steel, while "Discoball World" shifts the singer into Eighties overdrive, as he wails a feel-good refrain over a revving guitar riff that would be frighteningly at home in a John Hughes film.
Garza is a Mexican American who grew up listening to cumbias, Mexican religious hymns, AC/DC, and Stevie Ray Vaughan. It shows. He toys with just about every genre in his dozen selections. He infuses "Slave" with a funked-out reggae beat, then marshals a fleet of violins, violas, and cellos for the somber orchestral maneuvers of "Baptiste." Given the generally dense production, it's a pleasure to run across the acoustic ballad "I Know," which calls to mind the quieter work of John Lennon, thanks not only to its lovely melody but also to Garza's haunting tenor. The jazz lullaby "Flower" brings the collection to an appropriately dreamy close.
-- Steven Almond
Given the lamentable lack of female voices on the insurgent country front, it's tempting to overrate the work of Melissa Swingle and her Chapel Hill trio Trailer Bride. As evidenced on the group's 1997 self-titled debut for Walt Records and the new Smelling Salts (the group's first effort for Chicago's Bloodshot label), Swingle can turn the occasional good phrase, and she has a unique if primitive touch on slide guitar (check out the crudely seductive work on Smelling Salts's "Wildness"). But there are problems. For one, Swingle sings in the tortilla-flat drone of a deadpan boho, which may represent the ideals of honky-tonk insurgency for some hipsters, but for everyone else it's simply annoying. Even worse, as a songwriter she is susceptible to the cornball white-trash shtick embodied by alterna-hokum merchants from Webb Wilder to Southern Culture on the Skids, meaning you get a lot of silly, cornpone songs that are based more on Hee-Haw-style cliches than on the way people really live and think.
Certainly Smelling Salts has its redemptive moments -- the despondency in the stark, tension-filled ballads "South of the Border" and "From the Rooftop," the downright weird instrumental "Fighting Back the Buzzards," which features Swingle on saw (!), and the sonic punch of "Show Bizness," the only time the otherwise flaccid rhythm section of upright bassist Daryl White and drummer Brad Goolsby come close to anything you could call a groove. Still, Swingle best nails her own limitations -- which is to say the limitations of her band -- in "Bruises for Pearls," on which, in a refreshingly honest admission, she bemoans her own inability to sing on key. At least she is aware of the problem. Wonder if the insurgent hipsters will care? (912 W. Addison, Chicago, IL 60613-4339)
-- John Floyd
People Move On
They weren't exactly Page and Plant, or even Morrissey and Marr, but Bernard Butler and Brett Anderson certainly made their mark. The androgynous, dark-haired lads once made up the core of the London Suede, an amped-up glam-rock band that caused a tremendous furor in England, so much so that in 1992 it wound up on the cover of that nation's Melody Maker without having released any songs. The group made its recording debut the following year with Suede, and it was hard to say who was more responsible for the album's over-the-top, supersexual rock sound: Anderson, with his hysterical falsetto, or Butler, with his ejaculatory guitar solos. In 1994, after months of squabbling with Anderson, Butler split, taking his signature sound with him. Fans and critics alike wondered if the London Suede would ever find another guitarist of Butler's magnitude.
The band did indeed, in the form of teenage wunderkind Richard Oakes, and went on to make some of the best music of its career. In 1995 Butler and David McAlmont, former singer for the Thieves, released an album together, scoring a U.K. Top 10 hit with a funky track called "Yes." But that was little more than a warmup; Butler's true solo career begins with People Move On.
The guitarist has left behind the melodrama and metal-edged aggression of the London Suede, opting instead for loose, meandering songs with little melody and lots of extended jams. The album's first track, "Woman I Know," is a plodding, down-tempo ballad that lasts almost eight minutes, the kind of thing Eric Clapton often indulges in these days. "Autograph," the disc's episodic, guitar-rock centerpiece, lasts almost nine. Apparently, Butler was in the wrong band all these years: He should have been playing with the Verve.
Okay, most of the songs here last about four minutes, but they seem twice as long. "You Just Know" begins with a full minute of delicate acoustic guitar, eventually turns into a soft-rock ballad, and offers only a vaguely pleasant harmonica riff as a hook. "Not Alone" combines a grandiose symphony with an old-fashioned rock-stomp rhythm, but instead of catching fire it just smokes for a few minutes before fizzling out. Butler's voice is presentable (what he lacks in range he makes up for in earnestness), but his amateurish lyrics sink him. There's only so much passion he can muster on lines such as "I've been roaming the streets with my head in the clouds/And I won't need to show you my heart/'Cause all I need in my hands is an electric guitar."
Butler's hands sound strangely idle on People Move On. His songs are exceptionally atmospheric, never really going anywhere; as a result, his guitar sounds equally directionless. He employs soulful back-up singers and Beatle-esque string sections to round out his postpsychedelic sound (in fact, his inventive production is perhaps his best achievement here), but nothing can hide this album's lack of solid material. If Butler doesn't wind up temping with other bands a la Johnny Marr or getting rusty like Jimmy Page, he may yet produce something worthwhile.
-- Rafer Guzman
Dana and Karen Kletter
Twin sisters Dana and Karen Kletter have made a debut album of soft, solemn, elegant songs built around a single piano and the pair's stunning harmonies. Their music isn't influenced by any particular late-Nineties trend and doesn't fit easily into any category. The sisters split piano-playing duties, and at different times guitar, mandolin, and some light percussion bolster the tunes. Susan Voelz of Poi Dog Pondering plays evocative violin throughout, contributing an especially nice solo to "Meteor Mom," the poppiest track here, and ultimately the least successful for being so. A few songs, such as "Your Mother Wants to Know" (originally performed by indie rockers Scrawl) and "Sister Song," end up being too spacy, floating toward the ether of new-age mellowness. But when the Kletters let traditional American and Eastern European folk idioms seep into the songs, they take on density, and the results are impressive.
The sisters' music is reminiscent of two very different female performers. Certain cuts, such as "Directions" and "Father Song," sound a bit like Kate Bush in her slow, didactic, nontheatrical mode. More often, the Kletters hark back to Sandy Denny, who sang with the Strawbs and Fairport Convention in the Sixties before going solo. Whereas Denny took her cues from British folk traditions, the Kletters are influenced by Jewish folk music, and their gorgeous version of "Raisins and Almonds," a Yiddish lullaby, anchors Dear Enemy.
The album was produced by Joe Boyd, who has worked with Richard Thompson, 10,000 Maniacs, and many others in the traditional and singer-songwriter genres. The Kletters tell tales of complicated attachments and affection that shades into resentment, creating mournful, almost redemptive narratives. The lyrics hint at disappointments and passing joys. On "Father Song," for example, they sing, "Father I leave you the memory of your heyday/Your black and white world has slipped away."
-- Theresa Everline
Legacy: A Tribute to Fleetwood Mac's Rumours
Three constants in this world: death, taxes, and the abject baseness of the record industry. Not merely a tribute to deathless MOR drivelmeisters Fleetwood Mac, Legacy is a track-by-track regurgitation of the band's 1977 kabillion seller, with contributions from present-day pop's pale, pathetic posse. The guilty parties: Tonic ("Second Hand News"), the Corrs ("Dreams"), matchbox20 ("Never Going Back Again" -- will someone please just shoot these guys and put them out of their misery), the Cranberries ("Go Your Own Way"), Duncan Sheik ("Songbird"), Shawn Colvin ("The Chain," absurdly gussied up with that ubiquitous hip-hop shuffle beat), Jewel ("You Make Loving Fun"), someone named Tallulah ("Oh Daddy"), and Sister Hazel ("Gold Dust Woman"). Also includes: sad-sack geezer check-in from Elton John ("Don't Stop"), who immerses himself in a swirl of clunky keyboard blips while giving what sounds like the Up With People chorale their first studio gig in decades as back-up singers; and geezers-in-training the Goo Goo Dolls ("I Don't Want to Know"), apparently desperate for attention. Absolutely bereft of one redeeming moment. The perfect gift for someone who considers the Wallflowers (not here!) a Very Important Band.
-- Michael Yockel
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