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  Listen Up! 7/22/03 Listen Up!

Tuesday, July 22

Danilo Perez, “. . . Till Then,” Verve Records. Rumbling in the left hand, block chords with the right then cascading single note runs, the soprano saxophone soaring above in opposite directions, building, building, scalding hot, then a sudden sense of quiet and peace before the action begins again. That’s Perez’s take on “Vera Cruz,” a piece by Brazilian great Milton Nascimento. (The soprano is played by Donny McCaslin on this cut; mostly, though this is a piano record, with only bass, drums, and percussion as accompaniment.) Unfortunately, most of the rest of the record is way more introspective than this cut. It’s pretty, but it doesn’t aspire to move beyond that level, with the single exception of a deeply sentimental take on Stevie Wonder’s delightful “Overjoyed.” Perez can make pretty music in his sleep, but I’d rather hear him dig a little deeper. The tunes are here, but this album doesn’t nab my attention.

Jimmy Rushing, “Five Feet of Soul,” Roulette Jazz. Ten mostly brief spectacular cuts from one of the great jazz vocalists of all time. Rushing was a blues shouter who made his name working with Count Basie. The arrangements here are a little more complex than Basie usually gave him, but Rushing easily swings right through dense chords from the mass horns. Only a few of these songs are the blues normally associated with Rushing, but it doesn’t matter; he applies his forceful personality to whatever material is at hand, and wrestles it into submission. Easy, graceful, and forceful at the same time.

Joe Ely, “Streets of Sin,” Rounder Records. In the latest issue of No Depression, David Cantwell very astutely points out that Ely has turned his vocal limitations into a signature style that works extremely well for him. Since the late 70s, his vocals have been instantly recognizable, and his songs have fallen into a few specific patterns which he’s brought out again and again and again. So, what makes one album better than another, or even different? That would be his choice of cohorts in his band. Ely has a couple dozen band-mates in his history, and they’ve dictated the tone of his records more than anything else. My favorite Ely guitarist is David Grissom, who played on his magnificent “Lord of the Highway” album sixteen years ago. Grissom is back on board this time around, and I’m ecstatic about that. He’s not crunching like he did on that previous album, but he’s providing all sorts of intriguing coloration, little jazz runs here, hard-driving country licks there, now a ringing chord, then a slashing series of changes. Ely does what Ely does, and the rest of the band is rock solid. Sounds like a great album to me.

Adrian Sherwood, “Never Trust a Hippy,” Real World Records. Dub reggae updated for the computer age doesn’t move me much. Or at least this record doesn’t. Yeah, lots of interesting samples to contemplate if you’re stoned, but as I’ve always said, why waste being stoned on contemplating something that only sounds fascinating if you’re stoned? Use the state of being stoned to make something you already love seem even better. Sherwood’s credentials go way back, but, frankly, he’s never done much for me.

--Steve Pick

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