Boston Phoenix CD Reviews
MARCH 13, 2000:
*** Virginia Rodrigues NÓS (Hannibal/Rykodisc)
Virginia Rodrigues burst on the world music scene in 1998, shortly after Caetano Veloso "discovered" her in a church choir. Veloso has remained involved, co-producing her first CD and returning for Nós, which offers the same crafty melding of tradition and modernity that has made Veloso such a big star in Brazil and around the world.
Like Veloso, Rodrigues hails from San Salvador, the capital city of Brazil's most African state, Bahia. She showcases her gospel training on tunes like "Salvador não inerte" and "Mimar você," which come across as a combination of Gregorian chant and Portuguese classical music, with the first set to a subtle afoxé rhythm and the second to a melancholic string quartet. Rodrigues also pays tribute to the African side of Afro-Brazilian music, albeit in an extremely refined manner: "Jelto Faceiro" features the diva's smoky vocals backed by a handful of chirping kalimbas, and on "Afrekêtê" she joins a carnival band for a celebration of Salvador's street music. Most of the tunes on Nós are low-key charmers rather than barn burning rave-ups. But for lovers of the sublime and the subtle, Rodrigues is ready to punch your subliminal ticket. -- J. Poet
One day last fall, I was watching a college-football halftime show on BET. The marching bands were as ragged as the teams, and I was about to give up when I heard a familiar sound. I cranked up the volume; sure enough, the band were ripping through "Back that Azz Up" and the rest of the Cash Money Records catalogue. Last week, the other shoe dropped. I was listening to Book of Thugs: Chapter A.K., Verse 47, the third disc by Trick Daddy (the guy responsible for the sublime 1998 single "Nann Nigga"), and halfway through, I heard him say, "We gon' let the band deal with this." Before the words were out of his mouth, the Miami-based MC was interrupted by a boisterous drum-and-brass ensemble -- it was halftime again.
What makes Southern hip-hop so exciting is the way it expands the universe of rap music: from marching bands ("Shut Up") to electronic experiments ("Gotta Let 'Em Have It"), Trick Daddy unites a wide range of sounds beneath his expressive, down-home drawl. Of course, it wouldn't mean much if the songs didn't work. But that's no problem on Book of Thugs -- not even when it comes to the lethargic "Amerika" (a socially conscious collection of clichés), which is saved by those artificially high-pitched voices that chant the chorus. -- Kelefa Sanneh
Perhaps garage is to be the last of the retro rocks to be turned over. Certainly if recent ska and swing revivals -- both of dubious vitality -- can climb the charts, there oughtta be room for bands who write short, hard pop songs and knew all the music on Nuggets before the most recent box set came out. The Smugglers, a quintet from Vancouver, have been banging around for 10 years; they're big in Spain. They have become a crisp, polished live act that's glorious fun, and it all transfers nicely to their newest long-player, Rosie.
Lots of bands work these grooves in the comparative obscurity of a mostly West Coast (and Japanese) underground that worships vinyl, old American cars, and classic girlie magazines. And booze. At its heart, today's garage rock is a middle-class re-enactment of music made in working-class bars before the Beatles made rock and roll an art form. This ain't art, but it's artful. Since the Smugglers are more lovers than fighters, even their macho guitar lines and party-on anthems are undercut by well-tuned vocals and loser-friendly lyrics: fast, punchy songs whose initial aggression is leavened by craft and cleverness. Y'know, rock and roll. -- Grant Alden
If you thought that Seattle's once-touted music scene was now reduced to multi-platinum acts and poignant legends, and that musicians there don't just hang out and make music anymore, then take a quick listen to the Rockfords' debut. Headed by ex-Hammerbox/Goodness singer Carrie Akre and Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready, this is a "hey let's make a record" record notched up by the prowess of these seasoned musicians. With the exception of Heart's Nancy Wilson, who co-wrote and sings the haunting epic "Riverwide," the Rockfords have known one another since they were in their teens, and they exude an obvious bond. The urgent and insistent "This Life" finds Goodness's Danny Newcomb and McCready pulling out an updated twin-guitar attack; another crash-and-burn moment, "Sure Shot," has Akre, who does some of her best singing here, totally in synch with the momentum of the song. Elsewhere, though, we get tepid, emotional flag wavers like "Flashes." Although this is McCready's most cohesive side project since Mad Season, The Rockfords doesn't amount to much more than a quick nod and a smile from the Pearl Jam guitarist and some of his old friends. -- Linda Laban
"Pavement are dead; long live Modest Mouse!" Like so many one-to-one critical reductions, this scene watcher's pronouncement is at once accurate, premature, and dangerous, everything but irrelevant (only addled anarchists would be so blind). What's more, it's exactly the kind of contradiction-riven comparison that might be appreciated by resident boy genius Isaac Brock. On Modest Mouse's 1997 The Lonesome Crowded West (Up) -- the disc that catapulted this Washington State trio to the heights of avant-indie fame (say, a foot and a half above sea level) -- Brock's high, emotive sing-speak, his tinny, angular pyrotechnic guitar, and his smart, abstract aphoristic lyrics combined at right angles in a 74-minute art-punk tour that was perfectly Pavement-like in its beauty, bite, and breadth, in the way it recalled fistfuls of geek rock titans simultaneously, from Talking Heads to Built To Spill. But if Pavement's Steven Malkmus finds refuge in his upper-middle-class birthright to irony and distance, Brock's abstract intellectualism and unmediated passion were honed while he was a high-school dropout living in a shed behind his parents' trailer home. So whereas Pavement's Westing (By Musket and Sextant) turned inward for escape, this compilation of "every seven-inch and rare track they have done since 1996" reaches out, opening with three heart-wrenching stunners that scale a summit. The rest of the album then unfolds at leisure. "I'm going nowhere/But I'm guaranteed to be late" is only one of their positive/negative gems, so finely cut and set, you won't care that it's a perfect lie. -- Franklin Soults
This octet led by Chicago saxophonist/composer Ed Wilkerson is one of the wittiest and most engaging new-jazz ensembles going. The unusual instrumentation -- two reeds, two brass, cello, bass, tuba, and drums -- provides a distinctive, bottom-heavy edge, and Wilkerson's compositions accentuate that without skimping on melody or rhythmic drive.
Last Option, the first 8 Bold Souls release in several years, offers Wilkerson's cagy take on a wide range of influences that are finding their way into jazz today. "Third One Smiles" alternates between New Orleans funk and straight-ahead swing; "Last Option" incorporates Middle European scales and odd meters; "Gang of Four" has a decidedly Oriental feel. But there's a refreshing lack of outright appropriation or literal transcription -- if the music doesn't feel eclectic or postmodern, that's because of the integrity and organic strength of Wilkerson's writing. The line-up itself represents a damn near perfect jazz ensemble: it makes Wilkerson's tunes sound like spontaneous outpourings rather than the elegantly crafted jewels they actually are, and the soloists meet the special demands of each composition without sacrificing their individual voices. Highlights include Mwata Bowden's jagged clarinet solo on "Odyssey," the lyrical heat of Robert Griffin's trumpet and Naomi Millender's cello on "Gang of Four," bassist Harrison Bankhead's tour-de-force feature on "The Art of Tea," and Wilkerson's own fusion of burly swing-era sonorities and jittery modern rhythms on "Brown Town." But overall, 8 Bold Souls make their mark as an ensemble that respects form while pushing limits. -- Ed Hazell
DJ Eddie Amador, the creator of "House Music" (the hit song, not the style), here inserts his big 1999 club cut into a full-length, 14-track segue of dreamy, Europop house music that lives up to the hit's reputation. Therein Amador said, in his sweetest, most diva-like voice, that "not everyone understands house music, it's a soul thing, a body thing" -- and so his take on house truly is. Cute flighty-girl singers (Csilla, Justine, Lovena) coo and pout the night away, losing their senses (definitive moment: Csilla's "Queen of Indane") to the tune of Amador's boomy beats, poofy voices, and perfumed orchestrations. The style here is all Miami, lithe textures and giddy highs, as opposed to the dark, big-bottom beats, preening funk, and fearful outcry that dominate New York club music. Not everyone will understand Amador's take on house, but if you think South Beach freestyle and Italian disco, you might just get his point. -- Michael Freedberg
Twenty years ago, on albums like The Fourteen Bar Blues, tenor-saxophonist Bennie Wallace mixed a reverence for the jazz tradition with a bruising feel for the avant-garde. He whispered "Chelsea Bridge" in Ben Webster's breathy vibrato but found sharp angles and dramatic silences that, on his original compositions, opened out into dramatic three-way dialogues with (typically) bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Dannie Richmond. Lately, including on this new Gershwin tribute, he's hewed to the standard songbook.
Wallace is still a great, huffing romantic, and despite those Dolphy-esque angles and leaping intervals, on a tune like "Nice Work If You Can Get It" it's clear that he's more interested in caressing the melody swing style than working over the chord changes bebop style. In the best avant tradition, he employs brawn and bravado to force accidents -- a botched grace note takes on a glowing, painterly smear. Which makes it all the more dramatic when he drops from shout to hush in a flash and holds it. And on "It Ain't Necessarily So," driven by drummer Yoron Israel's 12/8 rhythm, he kicks up an R&B furor. Some of us might still yearn for the free-form, piano-less spareness of this Chattanooga native's early work, but when the keyboard man is Memphis's Mulgrew Miller, it's hard to complain. The bassist is Peter Washington. -- Jon Garelick
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