Music 1998: 

The good, the bad and the combusticated



I was totally backflipped by the amount of crazed, fearless, nongeneric contraband, much of it on small labels, that was smuggled into my Secret Underground Listening Room and Weapons of Mass Destruction Factory last year. Individually, the stuff would have had no more effect than a principle in the House of Representatives. Collectively, it amounted to the biggest FUCK YOU to the megamusic industry's program of empty jazz and bankrupt pop since about 1964.


Listen to: Real Audio Format Nils Petter Molvaer Ari Brown Mark Dresser David Ware Brad Mehldau John Scofield Medeski Martin & Wood Marcus Roberts Frank Catalano

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1. Nils Petter Molvaer, Khmer (ECM). If the crucifixion were to be filmed again, this should be the soundtrack: the deep sadness of Norwegian trumpeter Molvaer, the cloudy complexity of the effects, the monstrous inevitability of the beats. You say it's not jazz? Now it is, bro.

2. Ari Brown, Venus (Delmark). Here's a tradition worth preserving: a saxophonist of great skill and great experience, playing from the heart. And the heartland (Chicago).

3. Richard Grossman Trio, Even Your Ears (Hatology). This represents nearly the last of the Philadelphia-L.A. pianist's hyperaware, star-sprinkled improvisations that can be gleaned from the few recordings made before his 1992 death. None of them is less than transcendent, and these may be the best.

4. Mark Dresser, Eye'll Be Seeing You (Knitting Factory). Quite apart from the 1928 and 1930 Buñuel and Vigo films it's meant to complement, this bass-piano-reeds trio CD of belated soundtracks generates its own hieroglyphic images.

5. David S. Ware, Go See the World (Columbia). Columbia always retains one token avantist; props to new A&R honcho Branford Marsalis for signing tenorman Ware, who backs off not a millimeter from the turbines of emotion in which his sinew has always lived.

6. Brad Mehldau, Songs: The Art of the Trio Volume 3 (Warner Bros.). In addition to being a nonpareil interpreter of standards and a perfect pianist, Mehldau's re-emphasizing his superior talent as a composer. Scary.

7. John Scofield, A Go Go (Verve). The guitarist wades way down in the R&B swamp with bandmates Medeski Martin & Wood, and slays gators on all sides. This should satisfy anybody who's not a Republican.

8. Medeski Martin & Wood, Combustication (Blue Note). Meanwhile, the groovin' three risk offending everybody by playing three different rhythms at once. Since the result is brilliant, they'll probably lose only half their audience.

9. Marcus Roberts, The Joy of Joplin (Sony Classical). Those who enjoy Scott Joplin's 1900-era piano rags may not relish their extrapolation into genetic blueprints for 21st-century music. Sorry; take your medicine and give thanks.

10. Frank Catalano, Cut It Out!?! (Delmark). This kid saxophonist takes about 20 seconds to make you feel you've known him all your life. Just plain fun.


Listen to: Real Audio Format Marilyn Manson The BellRays Soulfly Ditch Dio Aerosmith WASP Pressure of Speech White Noise Vol. 2 Juan Atkins The Klezmatics

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1. Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals (Nothing). This album tore me up by the roots and flung me into the ocean. Beneath a thin layer of makeup lie metallic torch songs and sleazy rock pounders, beautifully sung by Manson, that burn with real insight and pain. Glam was never this deep.

2. The BellRays, Let It Blast (Vital Gesture). Riptearing punk energy supports the shredding soul vocals of Lisa Kekaula (who coincidentally sang backup for Marilyn Manson at the MTV Music Video Awards). With cheap equipment in a tiny practice room, Riverside quartet the BellRays made a CD that kicks ass till it bleeds. Obviously, the group's also great live.

3. Soulfly, Soulfly (Roadrunner). It took Brazilian metal to get me through putting up the Xmas lights. "Fuuuuck!" howled Max Calvalera on my behalf, the rest of Soulfly slashing and bashing like a spiritual mudslide behind. "Fuck no, no, NO!" "Dad," asked my 6-year-old girl, "what is the title of that song?" "Honey," I said, "the title is 'No.' N-O."

4. Ditch, Deep Blue Hole (Civil War). My friend Dave Van Heusen and company made this four-song EP, which carries on the tradition of '70s hard rock like no other new band I've heard in 10 years: deadly riffs, fiery yet coherent solos, a low and soulful singer. Guitar by Dave, vox by Andre DeSoto, drums by Greg Rogers, bass by Bill Newkirk, organ by Schneebe, mastering by Spot. Irrefutable.

5. Dio, Inferno: Last in Live (Mayhem); Black Sabbath, Reunion (Epic); WASP, Double Live Assassins (CMC International); Aerosmith, A Little South of Sanity (Geffen). Four double live CDs radiating the spirit, the doom, the horror, the danger. Thanks, we needed that.

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