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Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise

MAY 22, 2000: 

Tarwater Animals, Suns & Atoms (Kitty-Yo/Mute)

Once upon an era not so long ago and far away, electronic music was called "computer music," way back when extraordinarily expensive computers were available only to those who were in good graces with the government and/or well-funded academia. Challenged and driven by such experimentalists as Karlheinz Stockhausen, a paltry few modern (not "post-modern," not quite yet ) composers undertook to merge the new possibilities with relatively recent traditions, the likes of which many academicians were still trying to fathom, much less transcend.

Thanks to the bright side of capitalism (and I say that with almost no irony and as straight a face as I can muster in print), technological marvels eventually became more and more available to the masses. (Thanks, Henry Ford.)

By the time the '70s rolled over to the '80s, unauthorized idiots and geniuses of all kinds were making all manner of electronically/synthetically realized blurps, bleeps, whooshes, and pings. Not to mention diatonically appropriate music (and wonderful variations of such, naturally).

Presently, the very utterance of the term "synthesizer" brings to mind relentless four-to-the-(dance)-floor sequenced formulae; that's how shrink-wrapped and commercially marketed some of Stockhausen's grandchildren's output is today. But through the years there's been another strain, another thread established. The electro-artists who have jettisoned the shallow, faddish trappings sure to secure them a presence at the clubs have conversely created a wonderful catalog of new music well worth looking into.

Not that Tarwater and several of the other new "Kraut" outfits don't owe allegiance to predecessors like '80s underground icons DAF and Holger Hiller. Nonetheless, Ronald Lippok and Bernd Jestram take the not-so-old-tradition into this new century with intelligence and intrigue. Animals, Suns & Atoms makes its way via original ideas mixed with convoluted traditional song structure.

And in case you're wondering, only a die-hard AC/DC fan would accuse Tarwater of aping Kraftwerk. -- Stephen Grimstead

Oliver Lake Steel Quartet Kinda' Up (Justin Time)

As a co-founder of the influential World Saxophone Quartet, alto saxophonist Oliver Lake has repeatedly shown himself to be one of the most ingenious and original players since Ornette Coleman, possessing a masterful style that mixes sweetly toned melodicism with a tough-edged, free-tinged expressiveness.

His new "Steel Quartet" is named for the distinctive sounds of Lyndon Achee's steel drums, and when this punchy Caribbean percussion instrument is combined with the powerful trap work of Pheeroan akLaff and Reginald Washington's bass, what emerges is a fertile playground for creative interplay between Lake's eloquent saxophone and Achee's piercing steel drums. Not only do the sax and steel drums harmonize and trade leads in an unusual and captivating blend, Achee also adds rhythmic depth by complementing and accenting akLaff's polyrhythmic drumming.

This fresh instrumental approach works well on a number of Lake's original tunes as well as unconventional arrangements of Mingus' "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament." -- Gene Hyde

Sonny Rollins The Freelance Years: The Complete Riverside & Contemporary Recordings (Riverside)

The late 1950s were the glory years for tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins, a time of feverish creativity and improvisational brilliance rivaled only by the rising star of John Coltrane. Known for his ability to twist and reinvent simple themes, Rollins could weave some of the most melodic and inspired sax solos of his era. Before his self-imposed three-year retirement beginning in 1959, Rollins recorded extensively while shunning exclusive recording contracts (hence the term "freelance"), hopping from label to label at whim, recording such classics as Newk's Time and A Night at the Village Vanguard for Blue Note, along with the Riverside and Prestige recordings collected on this five-disc set.

As a leader, this set includes such well-known works as his masterpiece The Freedom Suite, his landmark, 19-minute suite inspired by the civil rights movement featuring extraordinary interplay between Rollins, drummer Max Roach, and bassist Oscar Pettiford. Also in this set is his whimsical Way Out West, with his versions of "I'm an Old Cowhand" and "Wagon Wheels," cast into an improvisational jazz context. Rounding out his works as a leader are Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders, Sonny Rollins Plays, and The Sound of Sonny -- a series of extraordinary albums that often get lost when looking at Rollins' extensive canon.

This set also features his tenor on four selections from Thelonious Monk's masterpiece Brilliant Corners, as well as an excellent record with trumpeter Kenny Dorham (Jazz Contrasts). The nicest surprise -- one that's rarely considered as a Rollins' date -- is the young singer Abbey Lincoln's 1957 album That's Him!, with drummer Max Roach and Kenny Dorham.

This total package (recorded from December 1956 through October 1958) presents another facet of some of the inspired work by one of our greatest and most original tenor saxophonists. -- G.H.

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