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  Listen Up! 5/23/02 Listen Up!

Thursday, May 23

Wayne Shorter, “Footprints Live!,” Verve Records. Once upon a time, Wayne Shorter was a titan walking the earth. That time is long since past. Now, there are moments of inspiration, times when he actually seems to be concerned with what the other musicians (all of whom are good – Danilo Perez on piano, John Patitucci on bass, and Brian Blade on drums) are doing. But, mostly, he just wanders around aimlessly, blowing spastic blasts of scales and modes, without melodic direction, without harmonic invention, without rhythmic motivation. Sad.

Herbie Hancock, Michael Brecker, Roy Hargrove, “Directions In Music: Celebrating Miles Davis & John Coltrane: Live at Massey Hall,” Verve Records. Speaking of the days when Wayne Shorter was a titan, this album harkens back to that classic Miles Davis Quintet of the 60s, even when the band is doing Coltrane numbers. Part of that is the presence of Herbie Hancock, whose airy piano comps are distinctively the opposite of the McCoy Tyner rumblings that fueled Trane. Part of it is Roy Hargrove’s conscious bows to Davis’ laconic idealized trumpet sound. Part of it is that Brecker is putting together a nice mixture of Shorter’s and Trane’s styles, mixed with his own improvisational skills. While this record bogs down from time to time in introspective quietitude, it swings hard at others, and features some fiery solos from Brecker and Hargrove on almost every cut. By the way, the bass and drums are manned by the same pair from Shorter’s new record, Patitucci on bass, and Blade on drums.

Various Artists, “Philadelphia Clasics,” Epic Legacy. Eight full-length twelve-inch plate proto-disco classics from the Philadelphia studios of Gamble and Huff. I ain’t too high on “Love is the Message” by MFSB, which opens things off with a whimper of trebly vocals, but “T.S.O.P” by the same group will always get my booty shaking. “I Love Music” by the O’Jays wasn’t their finest moment, but it’s got a great beat. Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes long version of “Don’t Leave Me This Way” is a swirl of hi-hat energy punctuated by the gravelly exhortations of Teddy Pendergrass in his youthful prime. The O’Jays “Love Train” remains a masterpiece, as well.

Mike Phillips, “You Have Reached,” Hidden Beach Recordings. The requirements of smooth jazz are so minimal, so repetitive, so painful for those of us who actually enjoy music. First, a litely syncopated rhythm section, with a solid snare beat on the 3, then some syrupy chords on synthesizers, and a lead instrument, preferably a saxophone, that glides across the goopiest, most obvious melodies imaginable. This record fulfills all these requirements, and it is every bit as horrible as all the others that do so.

The Detroit Cobras, “Life, Love and Leaving,” Sympathy For the Record Industry. My excitement over this record was only slightly tempered by the fact that none of these songs are originals. Because, as Scariano correctly pointed out, no kids are writing songs like these anymore, but neither are they playing them like this. Here’s a look into what a contemporary Rolling Stones might sound like, were they just getting started in the new millennium with the same love or r’n’b and other contemporary bluesy pop from the early 60s. Oh, yeah, and were Mick Jagger a woman who actually had a more mellifluous voice (if a slightly less sexy one). The covers are obscure – I only recognize one title on the album, a version of Otis Redding’s “Shout Bama Lama.” But the spirit is not. It’s one of embracing rock’n’roll as a forum of tight, crisp sounds meant to sound wild and chaotic and immediate.

Sage Francis, “Personal Journals,” Anticon. I don’t really listen to hip-hop religiously, though I hear some stuff around the office that keeps pricking up my ears. But, as a result of just dabbling, and with the full awareness that I miss more than I catch, I’m noticing some new movement in the field these days. Sage Francis, accompanied by a dozen guest stars I’ve never heard of, seems more organic than the average underground hip-hop artist. The beats are grooves, not just old-school drum tracks with scratches. The raps are slightly hookier than usual. Things sound more searching, less certain of its role as standard-bearer for the way things used to be. As a result, this record is warmer than the average underground sound, and thus more interesting.

--Steve Pick



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