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  Listen Up! 2/18/02 Listen Up!

Monday, Feb. 18

Paul Desmond, "Desmond Blue," Bluebird Records. I'm not a big fan of Dave Brubeck, but if I do listen to his records, I am always pleased by the elegance of Paul Desmond's alto saxophone lines. The man had an exquisite tone, purely centered on the note at hand, yet ringing with the unheard overtones surrounding it. He also had a delightfully relaxed sense of phrasing, swinging gently while hugging the melody and improvising with harmonic daring you almost didn't even notice. All these qualities are on display even further on this solo record, with contributions of similar merit from guitarist Jim Hall, in conjunction with a very solid rhythm section and interesting string arrangements. The record could have been little more than easy listening; instead it's a lovely work. For those of you who may have owned this album before, there are now seven bonus tracks of three additional songs. Also, the mastering is superb.

Los De Abajo, "Cybertropic Chilago Power," Luaka Bop. Nice stuff from this Mexican band that ranges all over the Caribbean and down into Brazil for influences. Also, some rap finds its way into the mix. Very propulsive rhythms, catchy tunes.

Some Zapp compilation I didn't see the name of. Gosh, I love Zapp. Those rhythms remain among the strongest, most vibrant, most exhilarating of the entire 70s/80s funk scene. Those percolating guitars and synths, those solid snares, the voice of Roger Troutman electronically squiggled into another rhythmic sound. You'd think they were a novelty act if you didn't realize they did this for album after album and always brilliantly.

Elmore James, "Red Hot Blues," Pilz Entertainment. It's a budget compilation of some of the hottest blues sides ever recorded. No home should be without some sort of an Elmore James compilation. The guy basically had one lick on slide guitar, but it's one of the most scintillating links anyone has ever played, and it's one that's been imitated but never improved upon. James liked to claim he wrote Robert Johnson songs, and maybe there are a few words here and there that are different. But never mind all that. The reason to listen to Elmore James is obvious within any random ten second snippet of his best material (which all of this is among). He is in overdrive, pushing the needle to the red, sounding like he's testifying as both a screaming singer and a powerful guitarist. Primitive, yes, as far as components go, but sophisticated as all get out as a package. This is primal music that rolls and tumbles into beauty.

--Steve Pick



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