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JANUARY 12, 1998: 

*** William Parker and the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra


(Aum Fidelity)

If the Sun Ra Arkestra have a successor, then bassist Parker's big band is it. Like Ra, Parker gives the group a guiding mythology -- the story of a ghetto poet whose life, but not his spirit, was destroyed by poverty -- that provides the music with a social framework. Infused with the spirit of free jazz, the music itself is as powerful as the political/spiritual ideas that motivate it.

The energetic 22-member orchestra of Lower East Side denizens generate a startling number of ecstatically wailing solos, but thanks largely to Parker's compositions, the two-CD set is varied in mood and texture. The title track, a Ra-like processional built of interlocking vamps and countermelodies, inspires a plaintive solo from altoist Rob Brown. "Sun Ship for Dexter" offers attractive chord sequences, which the rhythm section maintains while saxophonist Ben Koen carves out his own freely improvised solo. "Little Huey Sees Light Through a Leaf," an exhausting 40-minute free improvisation, ebbs and flows through spontaneous ensembles and impromptu riffing, from which emerges the soaring lyricism of trumpeter Roy Campbell, the impassioned abstractions of tenor saxophonist Assif Tsahar, and several other soloists. This is a gloriously life-affirming band, balancing individual freedom with cooperative playing in some of the most riveting new music coming out of New York.

-- Ed Hazell

*** Timbaland and Magoo



When you're one of the hottest hip-hop producers of the moment, what do you do for your own album? Whatever the hell you want, it turns out: Missy Elliott's sometime partner Timbaland crams his collaboration with the nasal-voiced Magoo full of remixes, guest shots, interludes, and about a million wild production tricks. The title of their hit "Up Jumps da' Boogie" is a good hint of what they're up to -- they're as playful as the Sugarhill Gang, as single-mindedly bouncy as "Da' Dip," as street as you like but more concerned with dancing vertical and horizontal than with proving their toughness. And Timbaland's backing tracks are awesomely inventive. Check out the way he recasts Miami bass beats to make things sound half time or double time, or the way the "Reelin' and Rockin'" rewrite "15 After da' Hour" keeps mutating its central loop of an old ska guitar riff.

-- Douglas Wolk

*** Richard Shindell



With the heart of the seminarian he once was and the soul of the apostate he forever shall be, Shindell crafts moral dilemmas and spiritual crises into four-minute folk-pop tunes. "The Next Best Western," the kickoff track on his third and best effort, is ostensibly about a trucker, but it might as well be Shindell on the interstate on his way to the next gig, drawing comparisons between the toll taker and priestly dispensation. Producer/multi-instrumentalist Larry Campbell sets Shindell's compositions in complimentary settings like the country-gospelisms (pedal steel and organ) of "Next Best Western." Occasionally Campbell piles on a bit too much: "May" is a striking narrative that hardly needed to be made into a power ballad. But in the end, Shindell's storytelling and his yearning, angst-ridden vocals cut through the mix and straight to your heart.

-- Seth Rogovoy

*** Mainliner


(Charnel Music)

The first fuzz-drenched psychedelic bands to come rolling off the assembly lines were made in the USA. That was way back in the '60s, and these days some of the most imaginative, freaked-out, dope-smoking rockers reside in Europe, Australia, even Japan. Mainliner are one of Japan's more intense exports. What separates them from their American contemporaries -- Fu Manchu and the now defunct Kyuss -- is the freedom that comes with geographical distance from the cultural history and conventions of classic American rock. On "Tsukisasaru" and "Last Day," Kawabata Makoto indulges in some over-the-top wah-wah pedaling with his motor-psycho guitar, as singer/bassist Nanjo Asahito unleashes a caterwaul of reverberated howls and squeals. Drummer Yoshida Tatsuya bolsters the debauchery with what sounds like one long Mitch Mitchell-style fill played with the physical determination of Bill Ward.

-- Justin Farrar

*** Linton Kwesi Johnson



The poet most responsible for marrying reggae to poetry steps forward with a killer poetry-only set. But the dramatic musicality of Johnson's reading style and the street-smart lyricism of his politically charged poetry more than make up for the lack of backing musicians. These 14 poems take on police brutality, revolutionary dreams, and even literary politics (in the ironically titled "If I Woz a Tap Natch Poet"). In a just world, Johnson's marriage of ideology and entertaining storytelling would be a universally honored model of political songwriting (i.e., ideology exquisitely balanced with entertaining storytelling). Then again, in a just world, what would he write about? (Order from LKJ Records, Box 623, Herne Hill, London, England.)

-- Norman Weinstein

*** Iggy Pop


(King Biscuit Flour Hour)

Anyone who's seen Pop perform in the '90s is probably familiar with the rather amusing sight of the now 50-year-old and pumped-up godfather of punk having to goad on his young, no-name backing band, in a largely hopeless attempt to get them to play harder, tougher, meaner. That's not the case on this high-quality live recording, which was taped for a King Biscuit Flour Hour radio broadcast at the now defunct Channel in Boston back on July 19, 1988. Coming off two solid discs that paired him with former Sex Pistol guitarslinger Steve Jones ('86's Blah Blah Blah and '88's Instinct), Pop had recruited a touring band with an instinctive feel for the raw power of his music -- Hanoi Rocks guitarist Andy McCoy, UK Subs bassist Alvin Gibbs, Psychedelic Furs drummer Paul Garristo, and Madness keyboardist Seamus Beaghen. "Let's do it, do it!", Iggy commands at the start of a furious 70-minute, 17-song set featuring his usual high-octane mix of Stooges "hits" ("Search And Destroy," "1969," "I Wanna Be Your Dog") and solo material ("Instinct," "Winners and Losers," "Cold Metal"). And that's all the urging these guys require. Although by no means essential, the King Biscuit recording is an ass-kicking reminder of some of the extraordinary things this particular five-foot-one-man can do with the right supporting cast.

-- Matt Ashare

*** Frank Pahl



Collaborating with a different group of musicians for nearly every song, Michigan's oddest acoustic soundsmith, Frank Pahl, becomes a multifarious monster. With an instrumental arsenal ranging from accordions to zithers, he's the definition of eclectic. But Pahl's far from schizophrenic. On In Cahoots he engages in ukulele duels, growls a sinister tale over atonal violin, and plays a quiet brass duet. All his songs are rooted in a similar mindset, where shuffling Tom Waits-like sound effects are of equal importance to melodies and lyrics. This strategy yields patches of difficult listening -- a droning bagpipe/sax collaboration and the guitar wankoff forum "Shorty" come to mind. But there are also sweeter numbers like Missy Gibson's "Lorene" and Duplex Planet creator David Greenberger's reading of "1001 Real Apes," a lovely tale about ancient monkeys' cannibalism and dealings with God. Greenberger approaches the story as if it were the most normal thing in the world -- which is just how Pahl deals with his own natural eccentricity.

-- Jay Ruttenberg

*** Bill Bruford with Ralph Towner and Eddie Gomez


(Discipline Global Mobile)

King Crimson drummer Bill Bruford is no stranger to jazz. He led the acoustic fusion group Earthworks in the late '80s, but it's always been a part of his distinctive polyrhythmic vocabulary. Here, joined by guitarist/pianist Towner and bassist Gomez, Bruford leads a session so nuanced that it recalls the work of the Bill Evans Trio or the early days of ECM Records -- music that presaged "new age." Indeed, Gomez is a veteran Evans sideman, and Towner's group Oregon recorded for ECM. So it's no wonder that "Forgiveness" and "Splendour Among Shadows" interweave melody and harmony, building gossamer layers around acoustic guitar or piano. Bruford trades propulsion for gentle strokes, often using brushes to create texture. At their best, this trio play with a warm, ephemeral grace that makes their summer ghosts seem like comforting guardian angels.

-- Ted Drozdowski

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