Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer Turn Up That Noise!

An eclectic survey of recent recordings

By Stephen Grimstead

OCTOBER 6, 1997: 

The Grifters, Full Blown Possession (Sub Pop)

Forward motion can be difficult to sustain, which musically means that the more records you put out, the more difficult it becomes to keep on topping the last one, until eventually the inevitable let down comes. On the Grifters' fifth full-lengther (and their second record for Sub Pop) that inevitability catches up with them.
Fans of the group won't be disappointed by Full Blown Possession -- the let down isn't that great. The record includes most of the hallmarks of the band's sound -- like driving, chuka-chuka bass lines, tantalizing leads lurking just beneath the surface, and their distinctive staggering tempos. And the songs run the familiar eclectic ground, from the bluesy ("Re-Entry Blues") to the Bowie-esque ("Spaced Out").

Still, there's something missing. Chaos, maybe.

The band's best songs have always been based around impossibility; impossible hooks cobbled together at impossible angles, always on the verge of dissolution, but always pulling back from destruction at the last possible moment. Last year's Ain't My Lookout had songs that seemed like they were doomed to end after every chord, leaving the listener to stumble through them like a drunk in a funhouse. Most of the songs on Full Blown Possession, however, end where they begin and lack the false exits, hidden staircases, and trap doors that, when you get right down to it, are the band's true signature.

Exceptions to that observation can be found -- in the punchy "Blood Thirsty Lovers," for example. And some songs, such as "Sweetest Thing," succeed because of their guilelessness in the way the songs from the relatively direct Eureka EP did. On the whole, however, Full Blown lacks the cathartic moments offered by Lookout on tracks like "The Straight Time" and "Radio City Suicide."
It's not a disappointment, really. It's still a Grifters record. It's just not the best one. -- Jim Hanas


Geri Allen, Eyes...In The Back Of Your Head (Blue Note)

A distinctive pianist with a number of fine discs to her credit, Allen has been keeping some impressive company over the last several years. She played with Betty Carter (and contributed the title tune) on Carter's remarkable 1994 outing, Feed The Fire. Two years ago she became the first pianist in three decades to play in Ornette Coleman's band, and appears on his outstanding Sound Museum discs. Eyes...is her first solo outing since her stint with Ornette.

Forgoing her usual penchant for trios, Allen instead plays a series of duets with trumpeter (and spouse) Wallace Roney and Ornette Coleman, who plays his alto sax on two cuts. (A rare occurrence, since the iconoclastic Ornette rarely plays on anyone's albums but his own.) A few solo numbers round out the playlist, with percussionist Cyro Baptista joining in on a few tunes.

Outside of two highly improvisational duets with Ornette, the selections are surprisingly quiet, almost pensive at times. The Ornette selections are a mildly controlled fury, brashly countering his frantically fluid melodicism against Allen's right-hand runs and slightly chaotic chording. "Mother Wit," a duet with Baptista, starts off with an up-tempo percussion section, then shifts into a stately piano study. Indeed, this contemplative, softer feel dominates the disc, as Allen stretches out in a number of sparse and wandering tunes. Roney's tone evokes Miles Davis' gentle side, adding to the soft and contemplative effect. Allen gives an elegant reading to Ron Carter's "Little Waltz," and imparts an almost lullaby-like feel to the gentle "New Eyes Opening."

Eyes... reveals a little-seen side of Geri Allen, one marked by quietly delivered compositions and gentle, meandering improvisations. Ironically, given the title of this disc, some of these improvisations seem a bit unfocused, and don't work as well as they should. Although this disc is not as compelling or engaging as Allen's early trio recordings, Eyes... still has some fine moments of great beauty and inspired playing. (For some of her earlier trio work, check out 1994's Twenty One, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams, and 1989's In The Year Of The Dragon, with Charlie Haden and Paul Motian.) -- Gene Hyde


Art Blakey, Orgy In Rhythm, Volumes One & Two (Blue Note)

Blakey is most associated with the Jazz Messengers, his hard-bop school for up-and-coming jazz greats. The alumni list from Blakey's Messengers includes such luminaries as Wayne Shorter, Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan, and both Branford and Wynton Marsalis. Driven by his intense and brilliant drumming, the Jazz Messengers brought the gospel of hard-bop to the masses for nearly four decades.

Given this context, this reissue of Orgy In Rhythm brings back a fascinating departure from form for Blakey. This disc collects two 1957 albums on one limited-edition CD as part of Blue Note's illustrious Connoisseur series. It's an aptly titled set, with Blakey surrounding himself with three other drummers (Art Taylor, Jo Jones, and Specs Wright), five Latin percussionists, as well as a bass, Ray Bryant's piano, and the flutes of Herbie Mann.

This is percussion heaven, carefully orchestrated and executed. Tympanis, trap sets, congas, timbales, tree logs, and assorted percussion blend Latin, African, and jazz influences into a magical mix. Drums echo one another in African call-and-response patterns, with percussionist Sabu and Blakey chanting and singing in Swahili and other African tongues. Herbie Mann, in an uncharacteristic setting, adds some enchanting wooden flute to a number of selections. This reissue is unlike anything else in the extensive Blakey canon, and makes for an extremely pleasant percussion indulgence. -- G.H.


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