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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

By Stephen Grimstead

JULY 13, 1998: 

Dave Samuels, Tjader-ized – A Cal Tjader Tribute (Verve)

Samuels is best known as the vibist for Spyro Gyra and the Caribbean Jazz Project. He joins forces with a slew of Latin musicians on this tribute to Cal Tjader, the king of Latin jazz vibraphonists who died in 1982. Five percussionists, including the great conga player Ray Barretto and drummer Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, add some serious percussive punch on a number of cuts. Things work best on the four tunes that feature guests pianist Eddie Palmieri (one of the giants of Latin jazz, with five Grammys to his credit) and Puerto Rican sax star David Sánchez. Each of these four cuts burns with an energetic edge, and Palmieri’s original title tune is a real gem.

The disc is varied in tempo and texture. Chick Corea’s “Hand Me Down” takes a softer tack, with the accordion of Alain Mallet blending with Samuels’ vibes to impart a pleasant Parisian feel. Four selections rely on the interplay between Samuels and the flute of Dave Valentin, a pairing that unfortunately digresses into an uninspired form of Latin lite when the influence of contemporary jazz overrides the gutsy Latin heritage.

Tjader-ized fails to consistently live up to its promise, delivering a mixed bag that is interesting and energetic in some places, somewhat generic and bland in others.

As a final note, the cover features a series of cheesy Hugh Hefner-esque photos. A major jazz label like Verve should know better than to resort to such sexist packaging. Sixties retro is one thing, revamped sexism is another.
– Gene Hyde

Various Artists, Not Dogs…Too Simple (A Tale Of Two Kitties) (Casino Music)

When I was but a wee music critic, my mom filled my head with lots and lots of splendidly spun yarns. There was the ongoing (serial) bedtime saga about a family of bears who endeavored to always do right by one another despite distractions like harsh winter nights, howling wolves, and fierce sportsmen. And there were several cherished ghost stories, like the one about a Florida sheriff who recklessly embarked upon a solitary trek into the Everglades to investigate a ruckus kicked up by creatures from another planet. Of course, the brave but foolish lawman was never seen again – at least not in human form.

Early exposure to such colorful and effective storytelling techniques turned me into a lifelong sucker for well-rendered tales, particularly those accompanied by music and sound fx. For that reason, I can feel pretty good about recommending Not Dogs…Too Simple (A Tale Of Two Kitties).

As a life lesson for kids, Not Dogs’ plotline is adequate. (Roughly, Not Dogs utilizes a The Prince and the Pauper-style role-reversal device to tell the tale of an indoor cat, an outdoor cat, and each feline’s mutual yearning to “ascend” to the other’s station in life.) Similarly, there’s nothing extraordinary or inspired about the album’s music. Yet, somehow, the whole thing comes off as being a bit bigger than the sum of its parts.

Not Dogs was conceived as a children’s audio-book. But, as often happens, the project will probably appeal to certain segments of the adult population as well. Former Coolie (and Casino Music owner) Clay Harper wrote the CD’s narrative, and his brother Mark wrote the songs. The Harpers recruited some fairly heavy hitters to play the story’s various characters, a great many of whom helped to shape the Athens, Georgia, music scene in the ’80s and beyond. Cindy Wilson (B-52s), Kevn Kinney (drivin’n’cryin), Murray Attaway (Guadalcanal Diary), Rick Richards (Georgia Satellites), Jim Heath (a.k.a. The Rev. Horton Heat), and several others do much to bring Not Dogs to life. That said, by far the most valuable contributions come from Brit Ian Dury (remember the Blockheads?), whose beautifully thick and earthy cockney accent imparts an automatic street-cred to the role of Ali Cat (the story’s narrator), and former Velvet Underground drummer Moe Tucker, whose Luis (the pampered house pet) functions quite well in relation to Kinney’s Shananigans (the tough tom-of-the-world).

Smartly, Budweiser-logged bard Jack Logan was enlisted to put crayon to paper so as to illustrate Not Dogs’s CD booklet/program in a fashion even more loose and ragged than much of the album’s musical material. I can’t think of anyone more suited to the task.

The wild and woolly history connected to many of this project’s participants might initially trigger a few alarms in parentdom. Nonetheless, there is nothing about this audio-book that disqualifies it as kid stuff.

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