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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

MAY 8, 2000: 

Small Faces The BBC Sessions (Fuel 2000/Varèse Sarabande)

The British Invasion took the American music world by storm in the '60s, spearheaded by those grinning moptops with the unlikely moniker of the Beatles. Other talented bands soon followed, including the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks. Out of all those excellent groups ranging from the Animals to the Zombies, one still stands out as the mod trendsetters who didn't really make it in the States -- the Small Faces.

Throughout their four short years together from 1965 to 1969, the Small Faces were the leaders in fashion and music throughout Britain. And although all of the successful bands were shameless in ripping off each others' riffs, the Small Faces were the ones who gave more than they took. Their reputation also suffered as one of the most poorly repackaged and mismanaged acts from that colorful era, with the exception of the Kinks (but that's another story for another time).

Over the last few years, music lovers have been treated to a wealth of live material recorded for the British Broadcasting Corporation during the '60s and officially seeing the light of day in the digital age. And no band has been better served in restoring lost glory by this belated cornucopia than the Small Faces with the release of The BBC Sessions.

Although the band was composed of four very talented musicians, two members stand out as the heart and soul of the Small Faces -- lead vocalist and guitarist Steve Marriott and bassist and vocalist Ronnie Lane. Marriott was blessed with the most powerful growling rock voice there was, and he knew how to use it. While many of the British Invasion bands took a crack at covering American black rhythm and blues of the time, none were as convincing and engaging as the Small Faces.

From the first notes of "Watcha Gonna Do About It," with its pumping resemblance to the King of Rock and Soul Solomon Burke's "Everybody Needs Somebody To Love," the Small Faces make it clear that they're bringing something extra special to the proceedings. They even tackle that hoary Tim Hardin standard, "If I Were A Carpenter," and turn it around until it sounds just like a Small Faces song, which was also one of their many musical gifts.

And although you won't find the hits performed here (i.e., "Itchycoo Park" and "Tin Soldier"), the 15 songs on The BBC Sessions only remind us of how good the Small Faces were, and what a dirty damn shame it is that they didn't stay together longer. A short-lived reunion of sorts which produced two albums did occur in the 1970s without Ronnie Lane, but failed to capture that original spark.

Marriott died tragically in a house fire in 1991, and Ronnie Lane succumbed to multiple sclerosis in 1997 after an extended, brave battle. But the music lives on, and the Small Faces loom large over their better-known contemporaries throughout the raw and raucous The BBC Sessions, a lasting testament to their innate (but belatedly recognized) greatness. -- David D. Duncan

Evan Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble Toward The Margins (ECM) and Drawn Inward (ECM)

Take acoustic instruments (sax, bass, drums, violin), toss in a heavy dose of the avant-garde, then process the whole thing through a battery of electronics, and you get British saxophonist Parker's Electro-Acoustic Ensemble.

By running every sound through electronics, all aspects of human touch -- the breathing of the saxophonist, the fingers plucking the bass strings -- are essentially stripped from the mix. The results are distant, abstract, and somewhat academic as moods shift from chaotic intensity to drifting meanders. Even at its best, the moments of beauty that lie herein are like light reflected off a battery of microchips: remote, cool, and sterile -- music that's far easier to appreciate than to enjoy. -- Gene Hyde

Greg Osby The Invisible Hand (Blue Note)

Rising young saxophonist Osby brings in two legendary masters for this delicately nuanced date. Pianist Andrew Hill and guitarist Jim Hall -- both rarely heard as guest artists -- join Osby for a set of tunes marked by subdued surfaces and profound depth.

Hall's gentle, richly hued guitar blends nicely with Hill's open, expansive piano, while alto saxman Osby and tenorman Gary Thomas add further reflective moments to these thoughtful, almost pensive arrangements. Adding the needed tension that keeps these slowly unfolding tunes from slipping into slumber is drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, who provides an intense rhythmic fury clothed in a mantle of softness.

A very fine recording. -- G.H.

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