Hot Hot Heat
Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)
Though the New Wave rebirth seems cynical and contrived, it's not a wholly bad thing. This current crop of Cars-obsessed bands helped drive a wooden stake into the heart of one of the most unpleasant developments in the history of rock music -- nu-metal, alterna-metal, rap-metal, whatever. They did it by upping the energy level, eliminating the detuned sturm und drang and abandoning the absurd notion that hip-hop and rock should be sharing a bed.
The Strokes led the way, with their dubious Velvet Underground T-shirts, perfectly tousled hair and garage slop-anthems.
Canada's Hot Hot Heat are the frat boys of the new New Wave scene. Their 2002 release, "Make Up the Breakdown," was a hyper, tuneful geek-on-a-bender meltdown. The band's videos looked cool. Live, however, they pretty much stunk, their performance suggesting more of an open casting call for a hipster rock video. And singer Steve Bays was completely obnoxious on stage. Wearing a bouffant that recalled one of Eric Carmen's worst hair days, plonking on a keyboard, jumping around like he'd just downed his first-ever 12-pack and generally failing to connect with the audience in any meaningful way, Bays undercut the band's sturdy musicianship and catchy tunes.
"Elevator" is a better album than its predecessor. It's more mature, the songs are more astutely crafted, replacement guitarist Luke Paquin is able to draw from a deeper well than the departed Dante DeCaro, and the arrangements are more creative. "You Owe Me an I.O.U." may be the standout track -- it's a mush-mouthed pop ditty bolstered by Paquin's clever guitar arrangement.
Short, sharp and to the point, "Elevator" has no fat on it, but neither does it have a whole lot of substance. Which might make it the perfect soundtrack for summer 2005.
-- Jeff Miers
Jane Ira Bloom
like silver, like song
Review: 3 stars
It's a beautiful jazz quartet disc but one slightly out of balance. The snap, crackle, pop and bubble of electronic sound on it isn't nearly as forward-thinking and ear-opening as the free-form rhapsody and lyrical balladry is gorgeous and moving. The inescapable conclusion, then, is that this newest free-flowing quartet disc by Jane Ira Bloom presents great, formerly young jazz musicians only perfunctorily preserving musical freedom while truly relishing the deepest and most expressive parts of their natures.
Jane Ira Bloom's soprano saxophone sound is as beautiful as any in jazz and her spirit is just as adventurous. Her long-standing rapport with drummer Bobby Previte is so complete here that there are times when it's almost funny (listen to the abstract, algebraic scamper of "In an Instant"). These are musicians who glory in their mutual admiration and the silvery song it can produce. And with bassist Mark Dresser and pianist Jamie Saft providing Bloom with almost as much otherworldly support, this disc, at its best, is a celestial stream-of-musical-consciousness. (It's presented, says Bloom, "as one continuous set of music" similar to the group in live performance.) It's also presented with an MP3 file version that offers an additional "way to experience the music." You're not going to catch this bunch failing to keep up with technology.
So personal is it, though, that no jazz disc company these days would be likely to touch it, which means it has to come from the invaluable musicians cooperative artistShare (for more information, see janeirabloom.com).
-- Jeff Simon
Lost and Found
Review: 2 stars
Much is being made of the fact that "Lost and Found" is the first Mudvayne record by the now makeup-less ensemble. The group brought nu-metal a bit deeper into Marilyn Manson-land with its creepy stage outfits and impenetrable angst-metal caterwauling. "Lost and Found" finds the boys attempting to spread their wings a little bit, and the results are likely to be counterproductive -- hardcore fans will think the group is slipping, and listeners who didn't care for their brand of gloom and doom to begin with aren't likely to be impressed with the appearance of a few new textures.
"Lost and Found" is classic nu-metal. It blends stop-start rhythms, complex rhythm section interplay, plenty of Cookie Monster-style screaming and lyrics obsessed with some terrible wrong done to the narrator at some point in his life -- most likely, during adolescence. It's angry, cartoonish music with a serious chip -- make that a boulder -- on its shoulder.
If that's your thing, dig in. But don't be surprised to find a slightly kinder, gentler Mudvayne lurking in the grooves. Anger, as John Lydon so famously suggested, may well be an energy, but it tends to eat its host.
-- Jeff Miers
In L'istesso tempo
Performed by violinist Gidon Kremer and others
Review: 4 stars
You'll recognize the single-note piano harangues of Giya Kancheli's devastating violin/piano piece "Time . . . And Again" from the soundtrack to Stanley Kubrick's "Eyes Wide Shut" where it didn't begin to fit the upscale sexual Gothic doings onscreen. It was a rare instance of Kubrick's adventurous and inspired musical taste failing him utterly in the choice of soundtrack music. That's because there are few living composers whose work is as crucially heard in the foreground, with no distractions, as Giya Kancheli. This is music that completely contains its own inner landscape (Aaron Copland memorably termed it "the inscape"); music that, in sound, totally defines its own imagery. It is virtually pointless heard in the background.
This, then, is a stupendous record by one of the small handful of incontestably great living classical composers -- a disc where tremendous, idiomatic performances by violinist Gidon Kremer and musical fellow travelers meets ECM's fabled acoustics, which are perfect for music of such sparsely adorned silence.
Kancheli is the 69-year-old composer from former Soviet Georgia whose music has the sound of post-apocalyptic lament. If there were no more music -- and somehow a composer appeared to elegize its loss, this is what it might sound like. It's that powerful.
The three works performed here are the 1996 "Time . . . And Again," the 1994 "V&V" for violin, taped voice and string orchestra and the 1997 "Piano Quartet in l'istesso tempo" (which means music where the tempo remains the same while the rhythm changes.)
A magnificent disc.
-- Jeff Simon
Back in New York
Review: 2 1/2 stars
A better disc in theory than in practice. It's hard not to find irresistible the very idea of mainstream tenor saxophone swinger Scott Hamilton in a quartet with pianist Bill Charlap and the Washington rhythm section (unrelated Peter on bass and Kenny on drums). Unfortunately the music is, however ingratiating, thoroughly resistible. Charlap is, in quartet settings, so tasteful a pianist that he doesn't always light fires under the soloist. And Hamilton is a tenor saxophonist who sometimes needs somebody else's matches.
-- Jeff Simon