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  Listen Up! 1/25/02 Listen Up!

Friday, Jan. 25

Duke Ellington, "The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concerts December 1944," Prestige Records. It's not exactly a revelation to say that Duke Ellington stands far and above all the rest of 20th century music, but the older I get, the more I'm convinced it's true. Just listen to this live recording from 58 years ago. The music is so nattily structured, so full of twists and turns in the chordal path of the players, and so delightfully playful and rhythmically vital. Each member of the band could solo and break your heart. And the whole orchestra together could pretty much fly you to the moon and back.

Fats Waller and his Rhythm, "A Handful of Keys," Buddha Records. Waller wasn 't as imaginative as Ellington, but then who was? He was, on the other hand, a ton of fun, and led a pretty hard-swinging little outfit. This album is full of live performances that sound great. Waller is clearly having a great time urging his men on to wilder and wilder heights of ecstatic swing.

Some bad punk record I didn't even bother to get the name of. It was something I mostly tuned out, with wisps of horrible music occasionally reaching my brain.

Joey Ramone, "Don't Worry About Me," Sanctuary Records. This comes out on Feb. 19. When it does, I don't expect there to be a dry eye in the punk rock house. Anybody who has ever been touched by the Ramones is gonna be moved by this record, not just because it's the catchiest, most involving record he's made since at least "End of the Century," and not just because his voice sounds more like its old youthful, pre-screamed out prime. Nope, what's gonna take you straight over the edge is the glorious, hopeful, downright touching version of "What a Wonderful World," completely Ramonized that opens the album. Yes, he sang this shortly before he died. I think he knew he'd had a great ride, that his world truly was wonderful, and that even though it wasn't gonna last much longer (whether or not he was certain of that at the time), it was at least worth celebrating.

Quor, "Whatever," Drummer Boi Musik Group. Nelly was and is essentially a novelty act. His sing-song bouncy approach sounded completely different from what everybody else was doing two years ago when "Country Grammar" first hit the charts. It didn't necessarily sound profoundly exciting, though he certainly invested his songs with a playful joy that is kind of rare in contemporary hip hop circles. But, the fact that it was novel is what carried him to the top of the pop music world. Now, we have the "St. Louis sound," which is basically Nelly redux. The beats all do the same sort of push-pull thing, and the raps all glide up and down in pitch, and slip and slide rhythmically pretty much exactly like Nelly did. This means there is no more novelty in the style, and the music has to interest us solely on its own merits. Since I can't think of anything to say about this particular example of the Sound other than its relationship to Nelly, I'm guessing those merits aren't much more than average.

--Steve Pick



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