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Reel Big Fish

Fame Fortune and Fornication


Review: 2 1/2 stars (Out of 4)

There are two schools of thought regarding '80s hair metal, that much-maligned marriage of macho, mascara and multicolored Spandex pants. One school suggests that the music was never meant to be taken particularly seriously, that the whole genre-bending amalgamation of glam excess, metal histrionics, and cheese-flavored pop hooks was intended to be ironic, or at least tongue-in-cheek. The other school is the reason that Brett Michaels still has a career, for it's comprised of folks who truly believed that Motley Crue, Poison and Ratt were, like, totally awesome, dude.

California ska-punk legends Reel Big Fish appear to be members of the former camp. Never averse to throwing their ska-metal treatments at whatever cover songs struck the band's collective fancy, with "Fame Fortune and Fornication," Aaron Barrett and company have assembled a whole album's worth of ironic interpretations. The majority of them are culled from hair-metal's grim reign. How hilarious you find the album depends upon just how seriously you took this stuff in the first place.

Clearly, the Fish lads want to simultaneously celebrate this music and poke fun at it. There are no less than two Poison covers here, and they bookend the album. "Nothin' But a Good Time" kicks things off in high spirits, and the hyper-caffeinated ska rhythm underscores the straight pop charm of the song. "Talk Dirty to Me" is pure lampoon, a stripped-down Duane Eddy interpretation performed as a duet between Barrett and guest Tatiana DeMaria, who seem to be working incredibly hard to keep from cracking up throughout.

Slade's "Mama We're All Crazee Now" is less successful, precisely because it's a better song than the Poison pair, and thus, is much more difficult to make fun of. When the band looks beyond the hair-metal horizon for tunes from John Mellencamp, ("Authority Song") the Eagles, ("The Long Run") Tom Petty, ("Won't Back Down") and Van Morrison, ("Brown Eyed Girl") things become a bit confusing. These are not novelty songs, and Reel Big Fish's intentions with them are less clear; are they honorable, or otherwise? The Eagles tune sounds great with the ska horns interpreting the original harmonized slide guitar figures; Petty's piece works as snide reggae, and Mellencamp's "Authority Song" was punk-ish to begin with, so needs little in the way of a makeover.

It's telling that the most convincing performance comes via a straightforward take on the Toots & the Maytalls nugget "Monkey Man," which is also the piece least connected to the over-arching concept. Still, Reel Big Fish fans will love this. At the very least, the band now has a fresh batch of tunes to monkey with during this summer's Warped Tour jaunt.

-- Jeff Miers



Denny Zeitlin Trio featuring Buster Williams and Matt Wilson

In Concert


Review: 3 1/2 stars

There have been two actual trained psychiatrists among jazz musicians -- trumpet player Eddie Henderson and pianist Denny Zeitlin. Both, either strangely or not-so-strangely, come from San Francisco.

Henderson, 67, actually practiced medicine for nine years (though not psychiatry) before quitting altogether for jazz in 1985.

Pianist Denny Zeitlin, though, who will be 70 this spring, is still a practicing psychiatrist which has made his recording and performing career damnably sparse at times. A corollary, though, of that frustrating sparseness is that it has made every new Zeitlin disc rather precious.

His full non-jazz life, though, also made him one of the most individualistic and least stylistically beholden jazz pianists in the music's history. He was nine years younger than Bill Evans and when the jazz world first starting hearing Zeitlin in the '60s, he sounded like a leaner, more angular and more schematic version of Bill Evans. A piano brother, if you will, of Steve Kuhnn.

While Evans greatly increased his pianistic muscularity before his tragically early death at 50, Zeitlin has become progressively stronger while becoming a much more formally inventive and open a pianist over the years. Denny Zeitlin, now at 70, doesn't remotely sound like any other pianist in jazz. A terrific, hallucinogenic free, form stutter-finger version of John Coltrane's "Mr. P.C." opens this terrific disc of live performances from Los Angeles' Jazz Bakery and Albuquerque's Outpost Performance Space. In its demonic energy and narrative freedom, it's brilliant and utterly different from any other performance of Coltrane's jazz standard that you can imagine. It sets an almost impossibly high standard for the whole disc.

Even so, Zeitlin and his mega-chop rhythm section do things with such standards as "All of You" and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" that are anything but standard.

How much different the landscape of piano jazz might be if this were a regularly working trio in New York City.

-- Jeff Simon



The Revelations featuring Tre' Williams

Deep Soul


Review: 3 stars

Tre Williams spent several years in the early part of the decade waiting for the release of his debut album, a hip-hop collection recorded for rapper Nas' Ill Will Records. The day never came. The album was shelved.

It turns out that this was a blessing in disguise. After the Ill Will debacle, Williams abandoned hip-hop and dug deep into his southern soul roots, landed a gig as the frontman for traditional soul combo the Revelations, and now, appears to be exactly where he belongs. "Deep Soul" is a killer collection of soul songs with rough-edged R&B trimmings, and throughout, Williams makes like Otis Redding, while his bandmates lay down a thick bed of Memphis horns and funk-based rhythms.

Williams is not unlike modern R&B singer Anthony Hamilton in terms of phrasing and inflection. Unlike Hamilton and Co., however, the Revelations avoid the slick tendencies of contemporary hip-hop based production. "Deep Soul" sounds like it was recorded live in the recording studio, and Williams appears in the mix in what feels like real-time. It's this underlying cohesiveness, suggesting that the band and singer were performing together in the same room, that makes the album so compelling.

Fans of '60s B.B. King, Otis Redding and Memphis soul in general, line up. This one's for you.

-- J.S.




Masses and Motets

The Choir of King's College, Cambridge

(EMI Classics, 2 CDs)

Review: 4 stars

Words like "charismatic" and "luminous," we tend to kick them around indiscriminately. Then along comes this music that sounds as if it is lit from within, as if it has an otherworldly glow -- and there are no words. New to Palestrina? You want the "Kyrie" from the "Pope Marcellus Mass" -- rising and falling like an exhalation of calm. Or the Gloria from the "Missa Ave Maria," which starts out with one voice and then builds, voice by voice, into a thrilling expression of joy. Such bright-timbred, magical music. The Choir of King's College, Cambridge, led by Sir Philip Ledger and Sir David Willcocks doesn't so much sing it as pour it out into the air. This is a marvelous, affordable collection to hear over and over.

-- Mary Kunz Goldman

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