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FEBRUARY 7, 2000: 

**1/2 Victor Calderone E=VC2 (Tommy Boy)

Victor Calderone, a soulful and sexy house-music DJ who first gained attention as a remixer of Madonna singles, here creates his first CD-length DJ session. Unfortunately for those who expect a club DJ to state his case through the acrobatics of actual mixing, Calderone leaves aside the entire world of mixing surprise, preferring here to arrange his music rather than improvise on it. Still, he does deeply know house's taste. Thus the joyous onrush of house's ecstatic side flows and flashes in Veronica's "Someone To Hold," the Hyperdelics' tribal "Are You Ready," and Madonna's "Sky Dits Heaven" (Calderone's own mix, of course) and especially in Kim English's "Unspeakable Joy" -- tracks that sound a lot like DJ David Morales's mix style.

Calderone also takes a long, Danny Tenaglia-like look at house's sultry hard side with Andrea Martin's "Share the Love," Dan Q's "Aural Tribe," and the "dub" version of the 1987 classic "Do It Properly," a collaboration between himself and master house DJ Peter Rauhofer. Still, it's disappointing to find a DJ with as rich and massive a sound as Calderone has exhibited in his 12-inch singles devoting his first full-length DJ session to sounding more like Morales, Rauhofer, and Tenaglia than like himself.

-- Michael Freedberg


** Nicholas Payton NICK@NIGHT (Verve)

This is New Orleans-raised trumpet virtuoso Payton's slickest album. Its 13 compositions lean more toward fusion and an update of the classic "cool" sound than toward the gritty hard bop and street-corner jazz that have been his forte -- especially on his Grammy-winning 1997 collaboration Doc Cheatam & Nicholas Payton. Nonetheless, "Captain Crunch (Meets the Cereal Killer)" brings his hard-soloing aesthetic to the fore, blending airy melodies with turns like a trumpet/sax rumble and Anthony Wonsey's fleet bursts of fiery piano. Time and again it's the solos that snap otherwise pretty but drowsy compositions like "Prince of the Night" to your attention. Otherwise, Payton's concentration on sweet molasses writing and making his horn purr too often has things turning limpid. In fact, the only signposts for his trademark Crescent City growl are "Interlude #1" and "Interlude #2," excerpts from jams roughly a minute long, and the brass-knuckled bopper "Blacker Black's Revenge." Proof that too much "Exquisite Tenderness," as the CD's penultimate track is titled, can be dull.

-- Ted Drozdowski


**1/2 Michael Penn MP4 (DAYS SINCE A LOST TIME ACCIDENT) (Epic)

The Beatles and Phil Spector are the muses who dominate Michael Penn's fourth album. And from the way he launches with the full-bore, resonant melodic pop of "Lucky One," which openly struts those influences, you know Penn isn't out to hide his inspiration. Indeed, MP4 is a familiar-sounding set that cozily -- and effectively -- adds Penn's younger brother, Chris, and his wife, Aimee Mann, for backing vocal duties on well-trodden but sure-footed songs that were produced by Penn himself (with a little help from pro producer Brendan O'Brien on "Lucky One").

Still, you can't help feeling cheated by the turgid turn of songs like "Whole Truth" and "Beautiful," where rhythms lollop and melodies lack sparkle. And though this is a wordsmith's album, Penn can get bogged down in tale telling -- he's more likable when he exclaims simply "Oh fuck, got stuck" in the acerbic and experimental standout "Don't Let Me Go." Mostly, however, MP4 lacks maverick attitude, opting instead for admittedly lovely warm tones and a fine, classic sensibility. Sound, perhaps, but a little too safe.

-- Linda Laban


** Krust CODED LANGUAGE (Talkin' Loud)

In the video for "Coded Language," a drum 'n' bass collaboration between the crusty-afro'd Krust and the even crustier poetry slammer Saul Williams that's actually gotten some airtime on BET, Krust plays the mad scientist and Williams the black Moses. The single, from Krust's Coded Language CD, is about as un-Puffy as hip-hop-derived music gets, with Williams breaking down the connection "between the diasporic community and its drum-woven past," reminding us of our "responsibility to uplift the consciousness of the entire fucking world," and name-dropping the likes of Ginsberg, Gandhi, and Cosby over Krust's relentless off-kilter beats and battle-scarred soundscapes. Krust's production aesthetic stays true to that level of intensity throughout Coded Language, with dive-bombing bass lines, explosive techno rumbles, and Imperial Stormtrooper laser-fire sound effects. But with the exception of Williams's word slinging and his kinetic, transatlantic dialogue (which on the album amounts to a spellbinding eight minutes that reconciles poetry, hip-hop, and breakbeat science), Coded Language falters and degrades into a bombastic, one-sided shouting match.

-- Michael Endelman


**1/2 Goldie INCREDIBLE SOUND OF DRUM 'N' BASS (INCredible/Sony)

The British label INCredible has hit upon a bankable concept for a compilation series: commission English tastemakers to provide coffee-table chronicles of their respective musical scenes. Label chief/DJ/huckster Goldie has been tapped to trawl through his 12-inch collection to provide INCredible's quasi-definitive history of drum 'n' bass -- which makes sense because the artist formerly known as Clifford Price was the brand name of this dance subgenre in the period after his 1995 debut, Timeless, brought hyper-breakbeats to the masses, and before dozens of other studio recluses got into the game. In this two-CD survey of jungle's fall and rise, Goldie's selections are sturdy, if slightly innocuous. Ostensibly to remind you that he's underground and old-skool, he ignores obvious hits like his own smash "Inner City Life" and Innerzone Orchestra's influential "Bug in the Bassbin" in favor of two of his own lesser-known pre-'95 cuts ("Manslaughter" and "Terminator").

The compilation gets by with a little help from familiar friends like Roni Size, Grooverider, and various members of Goldie's Metalheadz posse. Unfortunately, the gold-toothed mixer pointedly ignores the genre's experimental fringe, including jazz-jungler LTJ Bukem and whacked-out fusionists like DJ Wally and Squarepusher. Ultimately, INCredible Sound of Drum 'n' Bass is less a study in drum 'n' bass and more a demonstration of what Goldie does best: repackage the work of other artists under his own name.

-- Patrick Bryant


*1/2 Enigma THE SCREEN BEHIND THE MIRROR (Virgin)

The producer/conceptualizer behind Enigma, Romanian-born Michael Cretu, helped jump-start the Gregorian-chant craze of the early '90s by combining liturgical drone with techno trance grooves and a vaguely menacing style of art direction. He's been recycling the formula ever since, and if you don't count the remixed versions of the first two Enigma albums that were recycled for the project's third release, he hasn't come up with any new ideas in six years.

He's not about to mess with his successful formula now. The Screen offers the expected smoky trance beats and atmospheric studio gloss that hypnotized buyers into sucking 25 million units of Enigma product off the shelves in the '90s. This is new-age music for people who wouldn't be caught dead buying anything that looks new-agey. Cretu borrows a few licks from Carl Orff's Carmina Burana ("O Fortuna") here and even gives the composer credit (or maybe the copyright lawyers are getting better at their jobs, who knows?). But what you get is a fair-to-middling album of snooze music with enough pop pretension -- especially the metallic bombast on "Modern Crusaders" -- to keep you awake, if just barely.

-- J. Poet


*** D'Angelo VOODOO (Virgin)

Enigmatic without being eccentric, D'Angelo arrived on the R&B scene in 1995 and permanently altered the genre's landscape, offering a sexily surly alternative to the neutered lovesick choirboys and the phallocentric bumpers and grinders. In fact, R&B in the years since has been defined more by the lack of D'Angelo than by the presence of anyone else. Following several years of late-night studio sessions at New York's Electric Lady Studios invoking the spirits of Hendrix, Mayfield, and Prince, D'Angelo has returned not so much as a savior -- Voodoo is unique and inimitable -- but as a lone soldier, trooping onward toward a goal visible only to a chosen few. Voodoo is careful, studied, timeless -- being trapped in the studio seems to have protected D'Angelo from falling prey to any of the typical R&B conventions. Even when Redman and Method Man show up on "Left & Right," they fail to excite D, or his music, to anything even approaching a fever pitch. Instead, the soulman's purrs, whispers, and groans dominate an album where words are rendered moot in the face of luxurious grooves. Only one track checks in at under five minutes; three exceed seven. Like the best artists, D'Angelo remains lost in the moment of his own making.

-- Jon Caramanica


** Dr. John DUKE ELEGANT (Blue Note)

Oh goody, another Ellington tribute. Actually, this one seemed promising, since Dr. John's lazy, hazy vocal style was bound to emphasize the more salacious aspects of the Duke's oeuvre. But the surprise here is that the whole thing's kind of dull. Three of the cuts are longish instrumentals, and though the band work hard at maintaining a pleasant groove, the result rarely sounds like more than near-jazz, with the Doc's Hammond B-3 shuffling and dealing out some standard-issue bar-room licks. And on the songs you've heard so many times before you're not sure you want to hear them again unless the interpretation is really super -- i.e., "Satin Doll," "Do Nothing till You Hear from Me," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)" -- the singer's approach is so lugubrious that you begin to think maybe the disc's title is meant to be ironic. On the plus side, guitarist Bobby Broom has some nice solos, putting his back into trying to freshen up the familiar changes, and Dr. John's weary, wavering intonation fits "Solitude" like a glove. But for the most part this is like hip background music, a group of sophisticated songs flattened down to an earthy monotone.

-- Richard C. Walls


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