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DECEMBER 22, 1997: 

**1/2 The Blasters



Driven by the smart, lean songwriting of Dave Alvin and the hillbilly-soulman vocals of his brother Phil, the blues- and rockabilly-influenced Blasters were one of the shining lights of the early '80s, during which they spearheaded a roots renaissance in their hometown of LA and beyond. Now, 17 years after it was first released, Hightone has reissued the band's first effort, American Music, which was recorded for the tiny Rolling Rock label a year before the band's Blasters Slash debut put them on the map. Whereas the later Blasters output was distinguished by the band's ability to put a fresh spin on traditional forms, here they lean heavily on covers, mixing in only a handful of Alvin-penned numbers (including the title track and the band's live staple "Marie, Marie"). Although this makes for a spirited set, it only hints at what the band later achieved. Diehard fans will get a kick out of the disc's archival photos; neophytes would do far better to start with The Blasters or Non Fiction.

-- Chris Erikson

*** Naftule's Dream



Klezmer great Naftule Brandwein, whose name has been adopted by this local avant-jazz-klezmer sextet, would love the group's boisterous spirit. Their decidedly nontraditional eclecticism might leave him scratching his head, however. On their debut album, part of John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series, the tunes range from funky rock to New Orleans improv to labyrinthine jazz, all without losing the fiery abandon of the Jewish wedding music that lies at klezmer's wild heart. Trombonist David Harris's arrangement of the traditional "Oy Tate" ("Oh Father") takes the band on collectively improvised frolics. When the arrangements don't wander that far from tradition, as on Harris's "So Nu" or clarinettist Glenn Dickson's haunting "The Spinoza of Market Street," guitarist Pete Fitzpatrick's electric guitar adds molten textures and noisy skronks not usually found in this context. All these liberties work because everyone in the band is firmly grounded in the music. Naftule's Dream may play intellectual games with klezmer, but they do it with passion and soul.

-- Ed Hazell




Even the jam-band prototypes that groups like NYC's God Street Wine draw inspiration from -- namely the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers -- have long endured the criticism that their music doesn't sound as good on CD as it does from the stage. And it's a commonplace that contemporary groove groups like GSW, Moe., Phish, and Widespread Panic leave the vibrancy, spontaneity, and, well, the jam at the door when they enter a recording studio. But GSW's homonymous Mercury debut is an exception to the rule: God Street Wine proves that a band known mostly for entertaining performances can produce a studio album that's not too slick or polished. The trick for this group is leaving in the cool organ and guitar jams that make their crowds wiggle and shake, and letting keyboardist Jon Bevo dish out a jazzy backdrop for guitarist/vocalist Lo Faber's extended leads. No, it's not the same as seeing them live. But it sets a fine example for any jam band in fear of the big ol' bad recording studio.

-- Jorge Ribas

***1/2 David S. Ware Quartet


(Aum Fidelity)

The hits keep on coming for what is undoubtedly the most venerable free-jazz combo of the '90s. Here Susie Ibarra replaces longstanding Ware drummer Whit Dickey, but otherwise the formula is the same for this piledriving quartet (tenorsaurus Ware along with Ibarra, bassist William Parker, and pianist Matthew Shipp): composition based in improv but still grounded in basic bluesy melodies. Players like Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp (as opposed to, say, Roscoe Mitchell) are the reference points -- "Acclimation," for example, sounds like a distant cousin to Ayler's "Bells."

The music moves in clarion bursts of pure rage and unsullied joy. In the squawking breakdown of "Utopic," Ware testifies like a man who's been holding onto a secret for too long. "Antidromic" features several solid minutes of Ware blowing like a freight train before allowing Shipp to stretch out his fingers on some typically erudite licks. And "Alignment" is the kind of passionate soul baring that brings to mind Coltrane's "The Father, Son and Holy Ghost." Ditto for "Sunbows Rainsets Blue." Ware just keeps unwinding and unwinding.

-- Joe S. Harrington

*** Chevy Heston



The best twisted art-punk album of 1995 that most people never heard was Destroy, an 18-song convulsing spasm of scatological and grossly deviant explicit sex talk as strong as anything David Yow or Gibby Haynes ever spewed -- it resembled a passage from William Burroughs's Naked Lunch chopped and pasted over fragmented nuggets of tunefully skewed Pavementy pop. Destroy was the work of Chevy Heston, the brainchild of local drummer Zephan Courtney, and it came out on CherryDisc when that label didn't have the best distribution.

Now that CherryDisc has inked a deal with Roadrunner, Destroy is back -- from its opening blast of sewer-guitar noise, which gives way to an unsettlingly pretty little piano melody and the, ah, memorable line "The cafeteria smelled like young pussy to the new adviser," to its closing droning mantra, "I'm gonna puke your beer on you, and I'm not even finished yet." It's been compiled, along with Chevy's equally compelling if somewhat less disturbing 1996 follow-up, Come to Sterilized, on Forever Is the Same Thing Again, a single 77-minute CD with a lyric sheet, nice graphics, and enough flashes of undiluted psychosis to make the holiday season bearable.

-- Matt Ashare

*** Burkhard Glaetzner


(Berlin Classics)

In the context of late-20th-century music, the oboe can't help recalling the sound of electronic music -- its strange insistent tone has a similar unearthly quality -- as well as the almost human sound it shares with its reedy ancestors and cousins around the globe. The pieces gathered on this disc make full use of this weirdly postmodern combination. Burkhard Glaetzner can play his oboe both as a freewheeling, honking reed leaping extraordinary intervals and as a breathy, meditative woodwind capable of strange overtones and divided sounds. Isang Yun's piece gives him the most range to work with -- the beautiful solo work Piri makes use of an encyclopedic range of tones for the instrument. Other highlights are Xenakis's characteristically histrionic piece for oboe and percussion, Dmaathen, and a hyperkinetic performance of Sequenza, the piece Berio has written for a variety of solo instruments.

-- Damon Krukowski

**** Bryn Terfel, Sir Charles Mackerras



Following his success in Mozart, Wagner, and Rodgers & Hammerstein, bass-baritone Bryn Terfel has now invaded the territory of Baroque music. He handles Handel with aplomb. There may be a few dry spots in some of the more fiendish coloratura, but who has ever supplied such a range of color and characterization? Rage and revenge are staples of the bass inventory, and we get our share here, in arias from Judas Maccabaeus, Samson, and Alexander's Feast. Then, in "O ruddier than the cherry" (Acis and Galatea), Handel turns the genre inside out, using dazzling coloratura to convey the comedy of Polyphemus's clumsy attempt to woo the lovely Galatea with romantic delicacy. Yet the beauty of the music also humanizes the monster. We're touched by him as we laugh at his absurdity.

Veteran Handelian Sir Charles Mackerras vividly conducts his old friend (years ago he conducted Terfel's professional opera debut). Terfel cheats a little, programming several arias originally intended for tenors or castrati. But who could blame him for wanting to sing "Where'er You Walk" (words by Alexander Pope), the exquisite tenor aria from Semele, or Julius Caesar's Machiavellian "hunting" aria, or "Ombra mai fu" (Xerxes), the most beautiful aria ever written to a tree? And in such familiar pieces as the three selections from Messiah, Terfel sings with a seldom-heard devotional intensity -- which makes this the perfect Christmas present. No recording has given me more pleasure all year.

-- Lloyd Schwartz





A few weeks ago in an on-line chatroom, a woman who had just seen Boogie Nights posted the notice that she went to high school in the '70s and couldn't remember anybody listening to disco. When I thought about it, neither could I. Boy, were we dumb. With two exceptions (Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" and the Melanie atrocity "Brand New Key"), and two bits of incidental music, the Boogie Nights soundtrack rolls out one killer number after another. You can't call all of it disco (though War's "Spill the Wine" probably qualifies as proto-disco), but from the percussive horn blasts of the Emotions' "Best of My Love" to the balm of the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows," nearly everything leaps out at you with a shiny bright vitality that even Hanson would be hard-pressed to match for sheer devastating pleasurability. The best rediscoveries are Chakachas's "Jungle Fever" (a heavy-breathing classic that can take its place alongside "Love To Love You Baby" and "Je t'aime"); the Buck-Rogers-meets-Superfly strut of the Commodores' "Machine Gun"; and, shockingly, ELO's "Livin' Thing." A penis joke in the movie, it's here the sunniest, friendliest pretentious pop song you've ever heard.

The skip button on your CD player gets more of a workout with the A Life Less Ordinary soundtrack, though that one does lead off with its secret weapon, Beck's "Deadweight," a road song for people who'd never dream of hitting the highway without a fully stocked cocktail lounge in their Winnebago. There's also the title track from Ash, the latest maneuver in their honorable mission to make power pop once again safe for the world; Luscious Jackson's "Love Is Here," which manages to be laid back and breathless at the same time; "Oh" by Underworld, perhaps the best of all electronica bands; and Elvis's wonderful version of "Always on My Mind." On the whole, though, the album works better to summon up the romance of Danny Boyle's underrated and unpredictable fairy tale. It's great to have Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea," though if you've seen the movie, you may long for the off-key karaoke version done by Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz -- and for McGregor's bellowing a cappella reading of Oasis's B-side "Round Are Way," sung in a faux-Mancunian accent that rings truer than anything on Be Here Now.

-- Charles Taylor

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