Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

MARCH 8, 1999: 

Paul Haslinger, SCORE (RGB)

When utilized as a means of artistic expression, well-concocted eclecticism can inspire rabid enthusiasm, inadvertent enlightenment, disorientation, annoyance, and outright indifference.

I say bring it on, and so do Paul Haslinger and a throng of like-minded musical explorers. Not content to merely and occasionally rearrange boundaries, these intrepid souls intend to render corporately/popularly sanctioned aesthetic borders kinetic, ever-changing, unreliable.

Some might know Haslinger best from his stint with Tangerine Dream during the late ’80s. If that’s your only frame of reference regarding this astute artist’s output, rest assured that he is not lost in the past (no disrespect whatsoever to Edgar Froese’s pioneering techno/ambient project). Mutated acid jazz (if that’s not too redundant), fusion, house, trance, world, hip-hop, prog balladry (if that’s not too contradictory), and lots of other stylistic nutrients synthesize throughout SCORE to make for quite a nourishing listening experience, indeed.

If you were traveling through China, would you at least sample local cuisine, or would you stick to cheeseburgers and fries (no disrespect whatsoever to pioneering junk-food magnate Dave Thomas)? If you fall into the latter “category,” then perhaps you should stay away from this release. — Stephen Grimstead

Kelly Willis, What I Deserve (Rykodisc)

Red-headed, pretty, and the owner of a powerful, naturally twangy singing-voice that makes most Music City divas du jour sound like Star Search also-rans, Kelly Willis would seem to be a perfect candidate for Nashville stardom. But even though further indictments of mainstream country myopia are hardly needed, Kelly Willis is as strong a case as there is.

Willis made three records for MCA-Nashville in the early ’90s (the same label that, in roughly the same time period, gave pure country phenom Marty Brown the three-strikes-and-out treatment after failing to get him on country radio), but was apparently too good and/or too uncompromising for Nashville. So now, after a six-year absence, the Virginia-born, Austin-based Willis returns on Rykodisc with What I Deserve, a fine record unlikely to garner the audience that she does, in fact, deserve.

Willis is a country singer without a need for any “alt” qualifiers. This can be heard, of course, in her lack of irony or interest in any real or idealized musical past; in her voice’s unaffected twang and her music’s effortless commitment to country music’s formal verities. But we also know this in part because she doesn’t play a note on What I Deserve and because she had a hand in writing less than half of the record’s 13 songs. That kind of ratio has become the Nashville norm in the last couple of decades, but is mostly unheard of in alt circles.

Willis is a vocal stylist in the Nashville sense, but not of the Nashville variety: Her material doesn’t come from Music Row publishing houses, but from Nick Drake (“Time Has Told Me”), Paul Kelly (“Cradle of Love”), and Replacements (“They’re Blind”) records, and from collaborations with Jayhawk Gary Louris. But whatever kind of singer she is, we know she’s a special one because she sings the hell out of every lyric that crosses her path — novel or shopworn, her own or someone else’s.

What I Deserve soars out of the gate on the strength of Willis’ open-throated wailing on the fatalism-never-felt-so-good chorus to the album-opening, Willis/Louris-penned “Take Me Down” (“I’m aware I should know better/But I don’t when we’re together/I’ll forget myself somehow/And I will let you take me down”), and only touches ground occasionally the rest of the way. — Chris Herrington

Jan Garbarek, Rites (ECM)

Norwegian saxophonist Garbarek continues his examination of world and Nordic folk music on this double-disc set. He supplements his jazz quartet with brooding, pulsing synthesizers, as well as samples and rhythms of Africa, India, and Native American tribes.

Backed by bassist Eberhard Weber, drummer Marilyn Mazur, and keyboardists Rainer Brüninghous and Bugge Wesseltoft, Garbarek captures a world of music through his distinctive sax voice, at times a model of melodic simplicity, at other times a flirtation with free playing. This whole musical exploration of ritual is filtered through Garbarek’s cool Nordic jazz sensibilities, and delivered with ECM’s pristine production.

Rites is a sublime, elegant work that’s both ethereal and firmly grounded in world folk music. Recommended. — Gene Hyde

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