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  Listen Up! 7/8/02 Listen Up!

Monday, July 8

The Time, “The Time,” Warner Bros. Records. I haven’t listened to this album in years and years. It holds up. Those elastic grooves, built on synthesized bass, syn-drums, clipped keyboards, snappy guitars, and about a million vocal catch phrases, are still stunning. This record, along with Prince’s own work (he produced and played on this one), helped set the template for a lot worse music in the 80s. It’s hard to imagine what movie and TV music would have sounded like then without this stuff. But, check out “Cool” for a blueprint of how to maintain interest in a 10 minute dance track. Everything shifts from foreground to background, but the groove never wavers. You could dance to this forever, but you don’t have to because just listening to it as rewarding as well. The Time would actually go on to make two even better albums, “What Time Is It?” and “Ice Cream Castles,” but the relative merits of those three records were pretty close to call.

Coleman Hawkins, “Solitude,” Dove Audio. This CD gives no session credits, no explanation as to when or where or with who these cuts were recorded. They sound like different line-ups from track to track. But, who knows? They definitely sound good. Hawkins digs deep into the harmonic implications of these cuts, swinging his tenor like he’s gonna knock down the melody but always keeping the foundation standing. He was a master, and this is just another reminder of why.

New Grass Revival, “On the Boulevard,” Sugar Hill Records. This album from the 1988 line-up of the classic post-grass collective is one I’ve never heard before. It’s quite nice, though not essential. At this point, Bela Fleck was a member, prior to his turn to jazz fusion. He dominates the group, actually pushing the incomparable Sam Bush to a more supportive role. But, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Great musicians are capable of working together, and here you have two powerful identities in the same place. And it’s not like John Cowan or Pat Flynn are wallflowers, either.

Ray Charles and Betty Carter, “Ray Charles and Betty Carter,” DCC Jazz. The year was 1961. Ray Charles had been topping the charts for a few years, and had already impressed the pop, r’n’b, rock’n’roll, and jazz worlds (country and western was soon to follow). Betty Carter was a young, up and coming jazz singer. Putting the two together was a moment of true inspiration. They tackled these standards, some as moldy as “Side By Side,” with aplomb, turning many of them into definitive statements. Really, there is no better version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” in the world. Charles and Carter harmonize beautifully, the arrangements swing and flow behind the vocals, and each singer gets plenty of star opportunities. Consider this a masterpiece of the jazz vocal genre.

--Steve Pick



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