By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
JAY-Z Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times of S. Carter (Roc-A-Fella)
No pop icon can hope to stay on top forever, but Jay-Z’s making one hell of a run. Like Puffy at the height of his career, Jay-Z attracts attention from adoring pop fans and eager player-haters alike. But as Puffy rides his empire into the dust, Jay-Z has proved wise enough — and talented enough — to do more than just rhyme about cars and clothes. After decimating the pop charts with Vol. 2, J-Hova returns to the concrete on Vol. 3 . . . Life and Times of S. Carter, and creates his most consistent and satisfying album since 1996’s Reasonable Doubt.
While he still mixes in the occasional pop hit — the infectious "Things That U Do," the insipid "Do It Again" — the bulk of Vol. 3 finds Jay-Z wrapped up in sweeping street narratives and outrageous displays of bravado. Uncorking a bottle of evocative poetry, he drops such dazzlers as "crazed and demonic/without blazin’ chronic/product of Reaganomics," and in "Things That U Do" admits, "I felt caged in but kept roamin’/prayed for the day of atonement/married to the streets, no date of annulment." Even at his most brazen — "Toting guns up to the Grammies/poppin’ bottles on the White House lawn" ("So Ghetto") — his moxie is irresistibly attractive, sinisterly charismatic.
Musically, too, Vol. 3 moves the crowd off the dance floors and into the back alleys. "It’s Hot" is a supreme study in minimalism made possible by Timbaland, who engineers a sparse beat of hand claps and the simplest of bass lines. Also striking is the lumbering, menacing "Snoopy Track" (featuring rapper Juvenile), a bizarre Frankensteinian mesh of Mantronixesque electro-distortion and the frenetic high hats of Mannie Fresh.
Vol. 3 is one of the few albums these days that capably bridges the ideological gap between the pop world and the underground, and Jay-Z displays effortless grace in flitting between realms. At least for the moment, he lives up to his own hype when he boasts on "S. Carter," "S dot Carter, you must rhyme harder/Competition is nada."JACKIE McLEAN Nature Boy (Blue Note) Listen to Jackie McLean: Real Audio Format I Can't Get Started
He didn’t want to do it. Make an album of ballads, that is. Which goes to show that the older and stubborner a great musician gets, the more important it is that he occasionally seek sympathetic and objective guidance.
The guide Jackie McLean listened to here was executive producer Hitoshi Namekata, who knew McLean’s reputation for inflammatory bop, but also recognized that the 67-year-old alto saxist has expanded his range. And whether McLean was listening to Namekata or the little voice inside his head, he was tuned in when he picked drummer Billy Higgins (a staple with him in the ’60s), pianist Cedar Walton (a longtime top-ranker with whom he’s been sharing bandstands more often lately) and bassist David Williams (from the saxist’s trio) in place of the youthful bandmates he’s favored in recent years. Despite its time-tried foundation, Nature Boy is like hearing a new Jackie Mac.
You couldn’t ask for a fitter demonstration of classic jazz nuance. Higgins ticks bright cymbals while pushing a jungle groove with low toms that are felt more than heard; thrums the brushes, matching a piano solo with a note-for-note roll; generates headlong swing out of a mystic tension between airy high hat and Williams’ thumping bass. Walton comps with Ellingtonian spareness, and finds elegant tailorings for reckless improvisations. Williams’ big, dark sound backgrounds the other instruments in high definition — compared to the funkiness of old Blue Note recordings, this one’s almost too clean.
McLean marries energy to reflection. On "You Don’t Know What Love Is," his heart’s broken, believe it — his trademark bitter, bent tone serves him in emotional ways it’s rarely done before, then he charges into some blue bravado only to choke in an artless sob. The rippling harmonic discombobulations he pours out in "Nature Boy" complement Williams’ solo, which sounds like he’s swinging from a branch over a swimming hole. McLean’s harsh cry peels the urbane veneer off "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." And on "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," he not only warbles, he flutters.
McLean says most of this material is first takes. That’s the way he used to do it with Miles and Mingus, and with players this good, it’s still possible. If he finds the old tunes and the familiar company a little too nostalgic, he should ask himself: Could he have mined ballads this deeply at 19? Or 49? (Greg Burk)THE GUNGA DIN Glitterati (Jetset)
If New York’s post-punk heroes Television had a combo organ and a chanteuse, they no doubt would have sounded like the Gunga Din. True to form, the band’s penchant for bare-bones arrangements, underpinned by a classically decadent sensuality, has made the group the current darlings of the New York rock underground. Respectively, "Hollywood" and "Brave New World" recall the sparse indie sound of Television’s "Friction" and the epic "Marquee Moon," with guitarist Bill Bronson’s searing leads playing Tom Verlaine, and Maria Zastrow’s organ taking the place of second guitarist Richard Lloyd.