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JANUARY 10, 2000: 

**1/2 THE TALENTED MR. RIPLEY (Sony Classical)

For those who haven't seen the movie, this is a better-than-average mix of original symphonic-sounding (strings and woodwinds) soundtrack music by Gabriel Yared interspersed with jazz standards, some Italian folk, and Vivaldi's Stabat Mater -- the segues give it a kind of cohesiveness and dramatic development you don't often find in soundtracks. Yared's "Crazy Tom" picks up from the falling notes that end Sinéad O'Connor's performance of his spooky "Lullaby for Cain." The vibes in Miles Davis's romantic, mournful performance of "Nature Boy" (not an obvious Miles selection by any means) continue into "Mischief."

At times, Yared's strings and soft horns suggest a more restrained John Barry-like 007 Mediterranean exotica, but then an uptempo number by Charlie Parker or Dizzy Gillespie (or one of several newly recorded pieces performed by the Guy Barker Quintet) will come pouring down like a refreshing cold shower on the general seductive torpor. Matt Damon even does a credible Chet Baker impersonation. Still, this very artfully arranged mood music will probably work best for those who want an aural keepsake of the movie.

-- Jon Garelick

*** The Henry Cook Band with Bobby Ward LIVE AT MONTREUX DETROIT (Accurate)

Not to cause friction in this hot local band, but I think drummer Bobby Ward is the real leader of this jazz sextet captured live in the Motor City. Ward is constantly busy, constantly thinking creatively on multiple levels, a quicksilver colorist. Saxophonist Cook (whose status as leader rests on the four original tunes on this seven-tune disc) is a solid mainstream player, but the musicians exemplifying daredevil soloing are saxophonist Salim Washington and trumpeter Cecil Brooks.

The high point is Charles Mingus's "Fables of Faubus," a tough composition to cover since the acidic charm of the original owed much to the verbal sparring between Mingus and drummer Dannie Richmond. This band get the politically pissy protest just right by talking solely through their instruments. Pianist Jacques Chanier and bassist Brian McCree weave their way handsomely through the proceedings with an assured gait. A refreshing redefinition of where "the middle of the road" is in contemporary jazz, this is a triumph of intelligent improvising from players who thoroughly enjoy jetting jazz surprise-shift between frenzy and reverie.

-- Norman Weinstein

***1/2 Stew Cutler TRIO MUSIC (Cogna)

It's hard to say what's more pleasurable about Stew Cutler's playing: his gentle-but-unsparing way with melodies or the beautiful bluesiness that infuses every one of his lines. At times, as in the haunting "Recluse," the New York City-based jazz guitarist seems to be channeling simultaneously the spirits of Wes Montgomery and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Then he'll go all out with a stretch that recalls Coltrane's expressionism, or play a Chicago-style head ripper like "C.C.," throwing down fiendish bends and tossing out repeated rib-sticking riffs comparable to Buddy Guy's savage playing. He even shares Guy's penchant for surprise, ending that tune with a rippling scatter bomb of noise.

Cutler wrote all 11 of these instrumentals, and he's perfected them in clubs over the past few years with drummer Gary Bruer and bassist Booker King, who also support him here. They're never out of place, and neither is Cutler, who maintains a clean, serenely cutting tone and approach even when he's pulling off his meanest feats. Zen guitar, anyone?

-- Ted Drozdowski


It would go without saying that Tommy Lee has nothing left to bare save his soul, except he already sold that to the devil years ago, so all he's really got are some friends in low places, his own faded celebrity skin, and this feeling that Hollywood done him wrong. Tabloid helicopters buzz his towers, he's getting no royalty checks while his porno tape rocks bridal showers for hours and hours, and his parole conditions (anger management, random drug testing) are bringing him down harder than the new Korn single.

Cue the Ricki Lake makeover. Producer Scott Humphrey -- who tweaked the Dust Brothers' tactics into a blueprint for new-order metal (with Lee hiding out on the couch!) on Rob Zombie's Hellbilly Deluxe -- flash-bombs the faders like a paparazzi apocalypse while T-Lee and white-MC sidekick TiLo cede the beats to fifth Beastie Mixmaster Mike and assorted machines. The biggest surprise is that Lee turns out to be more of a hip-hop purist, rhythm-wise, than Kid Rock or Limp Bizkit -- he gets no points for sampling fellow wife beater James Brown but scores a couple for checking U.T.F.O.'s "Roxanne" (instead of the Police's) as well as his own voice lifted off the infamous fuck flick. On the single, "Get Naked," Fred Durst suffers blue balls and Lil' Kim helps him through it; on "Who the Hell Cares" Snoop shows up with some fatherly advice ("Make money").

By the time Kid Rock arrives, Methods has warmed into a support group for paranoid wack white assholes, and that's where the party starts. Not long after, Lee starts jonesing for a fix and slips out the back door, leaving Crystal Method's Scott Kirkland to spin drum 'n' bass (around a sample of Lee shouting "Forget about rehab!") and Wu-Tang's U-God to shout a 30-second freestyle to an empty room.

-- Carly Carioli

** MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE 'MAN ON THE MOON' (Warner Bros.) Given the somewhat abstract tenor of the most recent R.E.M. incarnation, and singer Michael Stipe's penchant for producing independent features, it's not particularly surprising to find the band scoring a major motion picture, particularly since they did write the song that gives this Andy Kaufman bio-pic its name. What long-time R.E.M. fans -- especially the ones who haven't been sure what to think of the direction the band have taken since drummer Bill Berry's departure -- should be pleasantly surprised by is the one new tune R.E.M. penned for the project. "The Great Beyond" finds the band rediscovering the bright jangling guitars, hooky verse-chorus-verse structures, and, with a little help from drummer Joey Waronker, the punchy pop gait of pre-Up! R.E.M. and delivering what amounts to a classic-sounding R.E.M. cut. It is somewhat disappointing, though, that R.E.M. weren't able to inject more of their own personality into the instrumental cues they wrote for the film: the five score selections here don't amount to much more than generic, strings-and-piano-based background music. Which is to say that, unless you feel compelled to have the Taxi theme or Tony Clifton butchering "I Will Survive" in your collection, there really won't be any reason to own this soundtrack if Warner Bros. ever releases "The Great Beyond" as a single.

-- Matt Ashare

*** Larry Garner BATON ROUGE (Evidence)

All kinds of fine roots music grow tangled together in Louisiana, and one of the finest songwriters and relatively unsung heroes of swamp blues and funk these days is Larry Garner, a 47-year-old Baton Rouge singer and guitarist whose releases blend thoughtful and downhome lyrics with easy, greasy blues accompaniment that flows as slow and natural as muddy water through the bayous. Baton Rouge is Garner's latest stateside release, though it came out in Europe four years ago. Joined by fine lead guitarist Larry McCray, keyboard player David Torkanowsky, and the Legendary White Trash horns, Garner sways though straight blues, gospel, and soul material, touching here and there on reggae and even a straight country number with trenchant, honest lyrics, such as when he laments "record-number layoffs and under-table payoffs" or sings the musical praises of his home town. As he did on the earlier Verve outing You Need To Live a Little, Garner proves that though many may be called to the blues, only a few are really chosen to deliver the message.

-- Bill Kisliuk

*** Aimee Mann MAGNOLIA (Reprise/Warner Bros.)

Despite enough haphazard material -- two Supertramp anthems, an orchestral score -- to disguise this as a conventional compilation album, the soundtrack to P.T. Anderson's Magnolia is really a showcase for bright, underappreciated singer/songwriter (and Boston expat) Aimee Mann. The film is about being damaged and emotionally wary in LA, which is a perfect fit for Mann's point of a view as a songwriter. Her nine slyly catchy tunes here are mostly recycled from miscellaneous old projects and her upcoming album Bachelor No. 2 (Superego). But it's the two exclusive tracks that are the real keepers: lilting, sad, funny, and with just enough rhythmic intensity to keep things interesting. Only in the arrangement of "Momentum" does dull music lag behind the lyrical sharpness -- thanks in part to an uncharacteristically lackluster guitar solo by Jon Brion. Elsewhere, it's still Mann's trenchant and wise lyrics that stand out.

-- Jared White

** 8Stops7 IN MODERATION (Reprise)

Nine Inch Nails fans will find plenty to like in 8Stops7's 11-track debut. Evan Sola-Goff's vocals, accompanied by Seth Wilson on guitars, Alex Vivieros on bass, and drummer Adam Powell, depict a bleak world in which life's confusion, as he puts it in "Not Alive," "makes it difficult to comprehend" everything that needs to be comprehended. Bleak, but not hopeless, the band's dark but fluid techno rhythms ("Satisfied"), hoarse but forceful vocals ("Would-be Savior," "Better," "Regression"), and occasional flights of tenderness ("Question," "Good Enough," "Forget") move forward almost as often as their bouts of thrash and beat buzz flail about. Still, their most effective mood is anger, not contentment, and their purest texture is a bitter one ("Better" and "Uninspired" especially), expressed in precisely the kind of layered rant and mechanistic rush that make Trent Reznor's music so mortally bureaucratic (not rage against the machine but rage INSIDE the machine!) -- but with none of the overreaching vigor that gives Reznor's songs drama deeper than skin. Which is why Nine Inch Nails fans may like 8Stops7 but probably won't love them.

-- Michael Freedberg

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