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  Listen Up! 10/29/02 Listen Up!

Tuesday, Oct. 29

Charlie Haden with Michael Brecker, “American Dreams,” Verve Records. I was expecting more than I’m getting, considering Haden and Brecker are joined by the amazing Brad Mehldau on piano and Brian Blade on drums. Haden has been moving in an Americana direction for some time, and I wanted to hear these other guys visit him there. But, augmented by the big 34-piece orchestra, it seems much of this turns in a sentimental direction. Not that that’s inherently bad. These musicians are always going to be good, but I’d rather hear them push these tunes than wallow in them. Weakest cut? “America the Beautiful,” hands down.

Original Motion Picture Soundtrack, “Casino Royale,” Varese Sarabande. Believe it or don’t, there was a great reason for Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Bras to exist, and the theme to this movie is it. What a masterpiece of brassy entertainment! The Bacharach instrumentals are winning, too, very humorous. Don’t tell anybody I’ve never seen this movie, though.

Lou Reed, “Transformer,” RCA Records. It remains a masterpiece, one that gains a little extra atmosphere from the expansive sound of this new remastering, but which is essentially the same rock’n’roll exploration of decadence it always was. I’ll tell you this, right now, “Walk on the Wild Side” sounds downright spooky in ways it never did before. Familiarity doesn’t always breed contempt, but re-examination, with better sound, can reveal things familiarity had covered up.

Culture, “Live in Africa,” Ras Records. If you want perfection, go listen to “2 Sevens Clash.” But, considering that the best songs here are from that record, and allowing for the fact that most of the rest are good enough, if you just can’t get enough of Joseph Hill, this is a pretty fine document of one of Jamaica’s finest vocalists. He weaves melodic fragments, chants, and other vocal improvisations into something rare and vibrant.

The Jazztet, “At Birdhouse,” Verve Records. These facsimile reissues of classic old jazz records are so cute. They don’t add any bonus cuts, but they come in the same packaging, only smaller as the originals. They remind me a little of those rock’n’roll bubble gum packages you used to be able to buy back in the 80s. The sound is exqusite, and the playing on this one, at least, absolutely masterful. This is a 1961 live album from one of my favorite jazz groups, the Art Farmer/Benny Golson combo called the Jazztet. Go ahead and try to figure out who is the best player on this record. Farmer’s trumpet and flugelhorn are as lyrical as ever. Golson’s tenor is muscular and tender. And Cedar Walton darn near steals the show with some sly piano playing. Great record!

Hazeldine, “Double Back,” Okra-Tone Records. Chris Stamey is the producer, but don’t expect anything other than a classy job from the guy. By that, I mean there’s none of his trademark intelligent approach to making rock songs unique. These guys prefer a sort of middle ground melodic approach, something where all the notes stay in a narrow range, where the tempos just about hit that of a heart beating while you’re sleeping, and where the arrangements are about as familiar as this computer screen. Nothing out of the ordinary, though the woman singer has a lovely voice.

Swollen Members, “Monsters in the Closet,” Battleaxe Records. Here’s some old school-influenced defiantly underground hip-hop that manages to sound exhilarated by the feeling of flowing words in constantly inventive rhythms. It’s hip-hop that sounds alive and glad to be here, that’s ready to engage with the music’s history while refusing to ignore the moment it’s in.

--Steve Pick



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