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Tucson Weekly Rhythm and Views

MAY 24, 1999: 

THE SIMPLISTICS Beautiful Me (self-released)

A HYPNOTIC STATE of calm is the false sense of security you can expect before The Simplistics unleash their viscous, distorted and well-calculated attack. The music sounds like the bastard child of '80s new wave coupled with '90s alternative rock: the Psycheds, or Echo & The Bunnymen with Nirvana.

The Tucson Area Music Awards' 1998 Best New Band recorded its debut CD here in Tucson at Jim Brady's studio, and it has more hooks than a tackle box. Lead vocalist and guitarist Brett Beukman's voice has enormous style and range; and he's well complemented throughout the disc by James Couzens' competent writing, drumming and backup vocals. There are some tastefully executed solos, but it's the emotional songwriting that makes this EP so ear-friendly.

Lyrically, the album is full of gems: the title track poetically addresses self-image and self-augmentation from an androgynous perspective. "Holding Onto You" uses an array of passionate, eloquent metaphors to illustrate its theme, while "Under The Weather" has a chorus so catchy it borders on contagion. ("The Forecast in my brain is partly cloudy, chance of rain/I'm under the weather but I can't complain.")

Co-founding members James and Brett are joined by bassist Mark Hensel and guest guitarist extraordinaire Jason Decourse. Simplistics mentor and former producer Stuart Kupers (of Machines of Loving Grace fame) also adds some spice to the dish.

--Brent Kort

MONGO SANTAMARIA Skin On Skin: The Anthology (1958-1995) (Rhino)

INTEREST IN AFRO-CUBAN, Latin jazz, Brazilian, bossa nova, etc. is arguably at an all-time high, and Tucson fans already primed by Tito Puente's recent appearance as well as Santana's annual visits will be particularly disposed to the fiery magic of the god Chango heard herein.

First up: the Godfather of Latin Soul. Born in Havana in 1922, Ramón "Mongo" Santamaria would become a virtuoso of the Cuban tumbadora (a.k.a. conga drum). He worked through the ranks to join Puente's band in the early '50s, then became a band leader himself. Over the years names like Cal Tjader, Willie Bobo, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Hubert Laws, Bobby Capers and countless others would be associated with Santamaria; Miles Davis hisownself was a huge fan. Santamaria penned the jazz standard "Afro Blue," and helped usher Latin jazz into the Top-40 mainstream via Herbie Hancock's equally classic "Watermelon Man."

Both those tunes, along with 32 others, are present on this stunning double-CD collection. Rhino Record's typically thick, photo/info-crammed booklet tells the story (actor Andy Garcia even contributes a misty-eyed recollection of seeing the Santamaria band in 1968, as a 12-year-old kid in Miami). But it's the music--from inspired, kinetic recastings of "Summertime" and "Fever" to originals like the African percussion/chant-rich "Chano Pozo" and the sleekly sensual lovers' strut "Para Ti"--that leaps out and absolutely demands that you dance.

VARIOUS ARTISTS The New Latinaires (Ubiquity)

THE COMPILERS AND 10 artists of The New Latinaires no doubt own plenty of original Santamaria vinyl. Indeed, the San Fran-based Ubiquity label, along with its Luv N' Haight and CuBop subsidiaries, has championed Latin jazz rare grooves for some time now. What's significant about these lengthy tracks (the CD runs nearly 75 minutes) is how they collapse time: "then" and "now" dissolve to become one as producers and mixmasters of the new school re-envision the old with startling vitality. One compelling fusion comes courtesy of Detroit techno originator Carl Craig's "Breakdown Mix" of conguero Johnny Blas' "Picadillo"; imagine, if you will, the Santamaria band kicking it out in an interplanetary cantina while green-hued patrons throw their tentacles wildly in the air like they just don't care. (Blas' equally outrageous original version is also included here for comparison purposes.) Or Modaji's "Las Cosa Más Chunga," which subtly blends ambient electronics into a mesmerizing acid jazz arrangement.

Likewise, Capsule 150's "Octopus" unobtrusively utilizes elements of drum 'n' bass and deep-space mixing effects alongside live bass and keyboards. The result is simultaneously contemporary, from a club point of view, and completely reverential to the Afro-Cuban originators. In short, this stuff be steamin'.

--Fred Mills

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