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JUNE 29, 1998: 

**** Trio Hurricane

LIVE AT FIRE IN THE VALLEY

(Eremite)

One of the best concerts of 1997 is now one of the best releases of 1998. The fire-breathing Trio Hurricane -- tenor-saxophonist Glenn Spearman, bassist William Parker, and drummer Paul Murphy -- made one previous album 10 years ago, a tribute to Jimmy Lyons, and hadn't played together since, but at Amherst's annual all-day free-jazz fest, Fire in the Valley, they picked up where they left off in a set played with life-or-death intensity.

The energy level is impressive, but it's the band's rapport and the tight focus, concentration, and discipline of the music that makes the album extraordinary. Spearman's urgency is of Biblical proportions, and his tenor jeremiads of blisteringly fast runs, choppy short phrases, squeals, and white-hot sounds are delivered with righteous wrath that burns like coals. But the intellectual passion balances the emotional power of his solos. "Blues for John and Frank" and the blistering "N.Y.N.Y.," are towering, even terrifying performances. Bassist Parker is the most consistently inventive player on any instrument in contemporary free jazz, and he outdoes himself here: his bowed lamentation on "Tones for William" is a highlight. Murphy is one of the more obscure figures in free jazz, but he deserves more credit for his powerful and responsive trap work. This is an essential document.

-- Ed Hazell


** The Prissteens

PASSION, CONTROVERSY & ROMANCE

(Almo Sounds)

The Prissteens sounded like a garage rocker's dream when they first played the Middle East last year. Although heavily steeped in the '60s, they weren't a cute girl-group update or a new-wave throwback. They were genuine "Louie Louie" disciples with a perfect grasp of three-chord trash -- and they didn't waste time convincing you how sexy they were. If someone had produced it right, their major-label debut could have been like the Donnas' album, only better.

Unfortunately, veteran producers Richard Gottehrer and Jeffrey Loesser appear to have decided that Passion, Controversy & Romance should sound as much like a Joan Jett album as possible. The guitars are too soft and the vocals are too loud. There are a pair of too-obvious covers, the Pretty Things' "Sorrow" and Wreckless Eric's "Go the Whole Wide World" -- already covered by, respectively, David Bowie and the Monkees. And the disc's bubblegum polish makes the band sound like, yes, a girl-group update and new-wave throwback. All's not lost: the opening tune, "The Hound," is three minutes of pure mania, with flying hormones, screams aplenty, three big chords, and one of the most concise love stories ever told. Then the album settles into an enjoyable but respectable '60s sound, as if the Prissteens were too scared of the teenage monster they'd just unleashed.

-- Brett Milano


** The Mekons

ME

(Quarterstick)

Now that Chumbawamba have made the airwaves safe for veteran English co-ed punk/anarchist collectives, it was only a matter of time before the resurfacing of the Mekons, who've been on solo-project sabbatical since 1994. Noting that the '90s are merely the '80s beneath a thin façade of irony, the band have released an album whose apparent celebration of the current era's narcissism, materialism, and hedonism is frosted with a shallow layer of satirical cleverness and a thick layer of that electronica stuff the kids seem to like these days. Whereas the band used to be the aural equivalent of a Mike Leigh movie (a quaintly British mix of working-class resentment, bitter wit, and quiet desperation), this CD is more Stanley Kubrick: intelligent, even trenchant, and technically accomplished, but often emotionally enervated. Don't worry, aging leftist hipster fans: that old Mekons sound you love -- whiskey-soaked vocals, lyrical fiddle playing, sloppy guitars -- is still there, buried deep in the mix, from which it emerges every so often, shaking the sleep from its shaggy head, remembering a faint dream of what it was like, once, to rock out.

-- Gary Susman


*** Maddy Prior

FLESH & BLOOD

(Park)

At 50, clarion-voiced Maddy Prior has lost a bit of the lung power that drove Steeleye Span back in the '70s. But with age she's developed finesse, both as a singer and as a conceptualist. On the new Flesh & Blood, a G.K. Chesterton poem flows into a moving a cappella interpretation of Todd Rundgren's "Honest Work." Death being the lifeblood of trad balladry, we get a royal incest and murder song whose end (depending on how you interpret a metaphor) may be remorse-ridden self-castration. Based on an apocryphal gospel, "Bitter Withy" has the naughty Christ child drowning snotty rich kids. Prior's writing with husband and one-time Steeleye Span bassist Rick Kemp brims with the naturalistic mystery and horror of Britain's folk tradition.

-- Bruce Sylvester


**1/2 Jenny Mae

DON'T WAIT UP FOR ME

(Anyway)

On her promising 1995 debut, There's a Bar Around the Corner . . . Assholes (Anyway), Columbus indie gal Jenny Mae Olds offered interpretations of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun" and Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain," which revealed more about her record collection than it did about her talents as a singer or instrumentalist. This time she tackles the Cole Porter standard "Night and Day," which gives her a chance to draw on those trumpet chops she picked up playing in the Ohio State University marching band and, given her lethargic vocal delivery, brings to mind the rather cool concept of a female Chet Baker.

Elsewhere Olds comes on more like a less perky or prickly Liz Phair, pining moodily "A cowboy who wakes up early/But I keep staying out drinking past three" with the torchy and slightly twangy "Cowboy Song" (which isn't as cloying or as catchy as Paula Cole's "Where Have All the Cowboys Gone") and cooing coolly about "Dairy Boy" against a pleasant little faux disco groove. She's enough of an inspired dabbler to keep things interesting as she jumps from the piano balladry of the incongruously titled "Ho Bitch" to the tight Britty guitar rock of "Drapes," to the loose soul-inflected lite pop of "Valentines Day," but she's not ambitious enough to keep from tossing off lyrics about how bummed out she is.

-- Matt Ashare


*** Gravity Kills

PERVERSION

(TVT)

Mea culpa, but I confess I didn't intend to review Gravity Kills. See, I thought this was a release from Vanity Kills, the new romantic tribute outfit that specializes in ABC covers. But in many ways the appeal of industrial quartet Gravity Kills and that of vintage ABC songs boil down to pretty much the same thing: getting in touch with your inner teenager. Perversion speaks volumes to the adolescent ego and id. Sure, you could kvetch that these guys are just sprinting with Stabbing Westward down a path already well worn by the jackboots of KMFDM, Ministry, and especially Nine Inch Nails, but at least they got there before Rob Halford. And this, their second album, measures up against those established industrial vets. From tortured lyrics like "I spit out all the anger/I sucked in the despair" right down to the slaughterhouse sleeve art, there's nary a single surprise here, except perhaps how compelling it sounds.

-- Kurt B. Reighley


**** George Coleman Quartet

I COULD WRITE A BOOK: THE MUSIC OF RICHARD RODGERS

(Telarc)

Before it was set "free," jazz was a song-driven music. Brawny-toned saxist George Coleman mixes the best of both worlds on this set, abetted by fellow Memphis guy Harold Mabern on piano, Jamil Nasser on bass, and the great drummer Billy Higgins on one of his first sessions since his kidney transplant. Like good post-boppers, Coleman and Mabern ignite classics like "My Funny Valentine" and "Bewitched" with a taste of melody and then dive headlong into transporting reinterpretations and flights. Coleman uses Coltrane's "My Favorite Things" as a blueprint for his own, and it's a joyful homage -- all smarts and soaring subtlety. But one of his canniest performances is "Have You Met Miss Jones?", which is full of gently restrained crescendos that give way to new melodies sung by his sax in a pure and loving tone, all breathy with blue ecstasy until a final sighing, joyful climax. It's proof that tradition-rooted jazz can transcend formula when a master's at the helm.

-- Ted Drozdowski


***1/2 Creeper Lagoon

I BECOME SMALL AND GO

(Nicklebag)

Although it comes by way of the same indie label that brought us Beck's first single (the Dust Brothers' Nicklebag), and though one of the Brothers, Jon King, even worked on three of the songs, the debut album by San Francisco's Creeper Lagoon is not some lone bedroom eccentric's exercise in pomo pastiche. The ingredients may not be completely straightforward -- "Prison Mix" incorporates a looped sample of what is apparently a Bulgarian shepherdess chant -- but the results are refreshingly easy to digest. Which is no big surprise: Creeper Lagoon are more or less a trad band, with a guitarist who sings (Ian Sefchick), another who fills the tunes with crisp tuneful hooks and grainy distortion (Sharky Laguana), a bassist (Geoffrey Chisholm), and a drummer (David Kostiner). What's more, they write songs rather than deconstructing them -- songs that are at once moody and playful, like Echo and the Bunnymen in the early days, or the Church back before they got way too pretentious. And if nothing jumps out at you right away, that's because every track's as appealing as the next -- indeed, I Become Small and Go is one of the best debuts I've heard all year.

-- Matt Ashare



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