EDGARD VARES Ameriques, Arcana, Deserts and Ionisation Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Pierre Boulez *** 1/2
There is perhaps no more powerful or less compromised composer in all of 20th century music than the great Edgard Vares. He quite literally remained silent for decades until midcentury electronic capabilities made it possible for him to fulfill all the sound field possibilities that his magnificent early-century music promised. Given that fact, then, the biggest puzzle of this otherwise exceptional new disc is Pierre Boulez's otherwise unconscionable decision to record the version of Vares' 1954 "Deserts" that eliminates the extraordinary "interpolations of organized sound" on tape.
To Vares, geography was a glorious metaphor. The "Americas" of his huge, craggy and wondrous "Ameriques" were the "Americas" of the mind, the new worlds that are always to be discovered and created. He wrote it after encountering a skyscraper New York in the 1920s. "Deserts," decades later, refers "not only (to) physical deserts of land and sea, mountains and snow, outer space, deserted city streets but also this distant inner space where man is alone in a world of mystery and inner solitude." With its once-unprecedented use of percussion and sheer sound (sirens, whistles, etc.) and its almost constant dissonance and dramatic climax, this is tumultuous, savage music whose lack of concert hall currency and popularity should never be surprising (in addition, Vares called for massive orchestral forces), but it is, without question, some of the most noble and evocative of all 20th century music.
To have it performed with such a combination of scruple and virtuoso playing is incredibly rare. So, aside from Boulez's almost incomprehensible choice, this is an ideal way to hear it.
- Jeff Simon
STEFON HARRIS AND JACKY TERRASSON
A terrific jazz record and, for what it is, exceedingly rare. Here are two of the finest and most creative musicians in current jazz - Harris on vibes and marimba and Terrasson on piano - who decided to make a record eschewing long solos whenever possible and opting instead for sparking and igniting each other in truly phenomenal dialogue and interplay. They can't always sustain the level of "My Foolish Heart" (heard in an opening fragment) or "The Rat Race" or "What Is This Thing Called Love?" but the amount of swing and propulsive virtuosity on this disc approaches levels that are on the upper end of spectacular. There's nothing really wrong with reconceived ballads such as "Never Let Me Go," mind you, but what you have to hear here is the amount of scorching jazz energy generated uptempo by Harris and Terrasson with their superb and unheralded rhythm section (bassist Tarus Mateen, drummer Terreon Gully).
What all the best Terrasson discs are justly famous for are his radical rethinkings and spontaneous recompositions of some of the most familiar jazz material. Few songs have been as recorded as "Summertime" and yet here, incredibly, is an entirely new way to hear it. Randy Weston's "Little Niles" becomes, in their hands, positively sulfurous.
Terrasson has found, in Harris, a spirit every bit as much of a kindred one as the disc's title claims and, in such pure form, that's a vastly rarer thing in jazz than its musicians and promoters so often pretend it is. This is, in its way, one of the most impressive jazz discs of the year.
- Jeff Simon
Gift *** 1/2
[Hip-O Records/Universal Music]
Talk about timing. This new release by innovative British duo Curve is the perfect antidote to the cutesy, pre-manufactured female pop world inhibited by one-named wonders Britney, Christina, ad nauseum. Toni Halliday - a precursor to Shirley Manson of Garbage - reminds us that women can not only rock, they can do it with attitude and femininity. Lyrically, the disc is riveting as Halliday works through her pain and isolation into feelings of control. "I don't want to spend time with people who don't like me. I'd rather walk on by," she announces on the anthemic "Want More Need Less."
Musically, Halliday and bandmate Dean Garcia pound out of the starting gate into the melodically intense industrial landscape of "Hell Above Water." The song has more in common with Nine Inch Nails than anything from the current pop/dance craze, and it's still wonderfully accessible: driving, pulsating, emotional, refreshing. The influence of contributors Alan Moulder (NIN), Alan Wilder (Depeche Mode) and Kevin Shield (My Bloody Valentine) is apparent throughout the disc.)
The title track, "Gift," pulls in a bit, allowing Halliday's vocals to shift into her appealing whispery mode. "Want More Need Less" is a textured blessing, an upbeat reinvention of the atmospheric swirling layers of Brit rock's shoegazer period. "Perish" continues along that vein, again with a brighter feel permeating the layers. Darker moments include the hypnotic grooves of "Chainmail" and "Polaroid" and the techno-driven "Fly With the High." "Gift" lives up to its name.
- Toni Ruberto
Robert Earl Keen
Gravitational Forces ****
In the rapidly maturing field of alternative country, Texan Robert Earl Keen is still king of the ballad, fusing verve to twang like no one else in the business.
This is amply evident in "Gravitational Forces," Keen's first recording since "Walking Distance" three years ago.
Two factors make this album different from Keen's other work: a healthy sprinkling of songs by other artists, including Terry Allen, Townes Van Zandt and Johnny Cash; and the production touch of guitarist Gurf Morlix, who dignifies Keen's labors with a certain sense of purpose and continuity.
The artist's previous attempts at interpreting the works of others have been so-so. Not so-so this time, as evidenced in a knock-'em-dead take of Van Zandt's "Snowin' on Raton." Keen also is a snug fit on bawdy Allen's "High Plains Jamboree," a soiree 'tween a family man and his gold-toothed mistress, "slow-dancing though the neon like sorrow through a song." And he's a choirboy cinch on the Cash classic "I Still Miss Someone."
Not to be diluted, Keen toasts his own potency in "Goin' Nowhere Blues," a deep-thinker's barroom inhabited by the likes of Langston Hughes, Woody Guthrie, Martin Luther and Cesar Chavez. A dysfunctional barroom decked out like a putt-putt golf course clashes with the artist's muse in the pleasantly different and unnerving title cut, "Gravitational Forces." Keen also clicks on the small-town reverie of "Wild Wind" and "Fallin' Out," with a pair of hearts on the skids. Even "Not a Drop of Rain," a melodic dead-ringer for the "Walking Distance" cut "Feelin' Good Again," manages to salvage itself lyrically. (Hard to keep a good tune down, I guess.)
Keen enlisted Ray Kennedy to produce the disc's last song, a kick-ass seven-minute reprise of the artist's "The Road Goes on Forever" (a song made famous by Joe Ely).
- Randy Rodda
Anyone Can Play Radiohead
A Tribute to Radiohead
Of all the gall. The 13 songs on "Anyone Can Play Radiohead" defy the title by proving just the opposite. The compilation has new and unproven acts attempting the material of the groundbreaking British band. The strange vocal interpretations by singers trying to capture Thom Yorke's symphonically inspired voice is the recording's most striking failure. So even when the Miranda Sex Garden gives "Exit Music (for a Film)" a nice, streamlined musical bed, it's accompanied by annoying quivering female vocals. I don't know what Dragon Style is doing with the wishy-washy vocals on "Karma Police," but it's not working. The glorious "Fake Plastic Trees" is the lethargic and ponderous first recording by October Hill. Electronica comes into play on Aleister Einstein unsatisfying "Creep." Stick with the real thing.
- Toni Ruberto
The acid-funk groove of the Waz takes a turn or two on this new EP showcasing David Wasik (drums), Edgar Henderson (upright bassist) and Eric Crittenden (sax, keys, voice). "Booty" is a psychedelic romp with keyboards blazing, bass jamming and with flavorful sax blasts popping in. Crittenden's voice and sax turn up the heat in the sexy jazz number "T-Lo." (Not too many singers could pull off the line "I know you love me and it's reciprocated" like he does.) Henderson's snappy bass line opens the spirited "So Su Di," a delightful bossa nova-inspired jazz tune that makes the feet move. The funky instrumental "Le Crunge" moves back toward the acid-jazz realm. Overall, the flavorful arrangements are surprisingly restrained. And Wasik's eco-friendly packaging is again quite clever, with the band's name die-cut against various backgrounds. www.thewaz.com