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DECEMBER 20, 1999: 

Foo Fighters There Is Nothing Left To Lose (RCA)

Dinosaur Jr. may have first acknowledged the connection between '70s arena rock and '80s Amerindie a decade ago, with their sincere cover of Peter Frampton's "Show Me the Way," but punk/indie vet Dave Grohl is the true golden child of that particular musical lineage. Grohl pounded the skins with almost unprecedented ferocity back during his Nirvana days, but since moving out from behind the kit to front alt-rock standard-bearers Foo Fighters, Grohl has gotten over with a sound that owes as much to the likes of Badfinger and Boston as to his former band. Even when screaming "I can't live this way," as on the new "Breakout," the genial Grohl sounds like an I'm-okay-you're-okay kind of guy.

Where Kurt Cobain was a cryptic songwriter and searingly brilliant singer, Grohl has exploited a more ordinary skill set in his unlikely emergence as a premier alt-rock band leader. On There Is Nothing Left To Lose, as they did on their fine eponymously titled debut and last year's follow-up, The Colour and the Shape, Grohl and company put underrated virtues like craftsmanship and pop instinct to the service of a punk-bred musical integrity. The result is a record that stacks one radio ready-made on top of another, but there's not a lot here that sticks to the bone.

These days Grohl is more comfortable flexing his comedic acting skills in likable videos for his likably melodic songs than in serving up soundtracks for a teenage riot. There's nothing wrong with that, really, but Foo Fighters' ethical (if apolitical), assured (if unexciting) guitar/bass/drums rock doesn't seem up to the challenge of making a dent in a rock culture that requires sensationalism (ridiculous Korn, repulsive Limp Bizkit) to climb the charts, or conceptual clout (Godzilla-like Rage Against the Machine, flowers-in-the-dustbin Flaming Lips) to mount a counter-offensive. — Chris Herrington


Michael Brecker Time Is of the Essence (Verve)

While Michael Brecker is undeniably a great tenor saxophonist, his last several solo offerings have been, well, a tad formulaic. Sure, the chops have been there — his improvisations are inventive, his arrangements intelligent, and his sidemen top-notch. Still, Brecker's last several solo records have seemed uninspired, a bit stripped of passion.

It's amazing what a few changes can do. Brecker forgoes the usual piano/bass/drums format on this new disc, opting for an earthier drums/guitar/organ complement to his sax. This new lineup invigorates his and his sidemen's playing, resulting in an exciting outing with plenty of memorable solo and ensemble moments from all involved.

As is usually the case, Brecker has chosen his sidemen well. Guitarist Pat Metheny and organist Larry Goldings form a solid front line, mixing beautifully with Brecker's tenor sax. This trio cruises through energetic head charts, bouncing riffs and counter riffs around, and generally complementing and enriching each other as lead and support roles switch back and forth. There's great depth to their interplay, and it works well in various tempos. Everyone seems thrilled to be playing together, and the performances reflect this enthusiasm.

The album's title refers to the fourth key element in this potent mix: the beat of three superlative drummers, who each play three tracks. Bill Stewart and Jeff "Tain" Watts provide an impressive rhythmic backdrop for the front line's playing, but the real delights are the tunes with drummer Elvin Jones, the polyrhythmic powerhouse behind John Coltrane's classic quartet in the early 1960s.

One of Brecker's most impressive improvisations on record appears when he was a guest on pianist McCoy Tyner's 1995 album, Infinity. Brecker tore the roof off a searing solo on Coltrane's "Impressions," a performance that won him a Grammy (yes, amazingly enough, sometimes the Grammys do award artists worthy of such praise). Tyner, of course, was part of Coltrane's classic quartet with drummer Elvin Jones.

Playing with these legendary Coltrane colleagues seems to inspire Brecker. The highlight of Time Is of the Essence is a breathtaking duet section in "Outrance," where the saxophonist explores intriguing improvisational ideas over Jones' stunning drum work. It's not the only great moment on this disc, which generally features Brecker finding his groove and revealing his Coltrane-influenced style throughout. It's easily his most impassioned — and best — album in some time. — Gene Hyde


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