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The Goods 

I listened to ’em, honest

Wednesday, Dec 13 2000
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Photo by Michael Mcclure

Every year, especially toward the end of the year, they come to me. I listen to them, and know that they are good. They sit on my shelf and look at me. They bust into my dreams just when Mike Piazza is about to explain the meaning of life, or Fairuza Balk wants to show me her stamp collection. They demand to know why I haven’t written about them.

Okay, I give up.

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HARD ROCK

Supershine, Supershine (Metal Blade). The team of Trouble guitarist Bruce Franklin and King’s X singer-bassist Doug Pinnick doesn’t so much rock harder than King’s X, it’s more like Supershine rocks dumber, which is no drawback. Pinnick’s moan on the Grand Funk churner “Shinin’ On” plumbs regions of soul Mark Farner never even drove past, and the original “One Night” is the hookiest scrap of metal to get stuck in my chest in years.

Nashville Pussy, High As Hell (TVT). Two white-trash chicks, two boneheaded rednecks, and two tons of the crudest rock in the South or anywhere else. In the same rasp he surely uses to yell the neighbor’s brat away from his trailer, Blaine Cartwright admits, “She’s got the drugs/And she’s got me,” relates how he caught his wife with a “Smile on her face, a dick in each hand, guilt runnin’ down her chin” and details what he then had to do about it.

Lizzy Borden, Deal With the Devil (Metal Blade). Some of the more melodramatic Satan worshippers around, these L.A. metal die-hards even use a sitar on one track. Did the world really need covers of Blue Oyster Cult’s “(This Ain’t) The Summer of Love” and Alice Cooper’s “Generation Landslide”? No. But when, with Iron Maiden-style vocal harmonies ringing high, Lizzy Borden cakewalks through the cheery chorus of “There Will Be Blood Tonight,” you just want to wave your top hat and yell, “Yowzuh!”

Entombed, Uprising (Sanctuary). Those who want truly hurtful riffs, out-of-control solos and sloshing, old-fashioned, non-double-kicked drums poured into their laps like boiling oil -and who doesn’t?- should head for Sweden, where Entombed keep their coffins. If these ghouls had a singer who liked to sing, they might elevate from dangerous to monstrous. Still, after over a decade of heavy transport, they’re way stronger than Slayer.

Cradle of Filth, Midian (Koch). Dani Filth and his drinking buddies make the most confusing mess in metal. Churchy keyboards, heavenly choruses, furious guitar riffs, drums so fast they sound like cards shuffling, each element burying the others in turn- and what the hell is Filth screeching about? Song titles: “Lord Abortion,” “Satanic Mantra,” “Torture Soul Asylum” . . . oh, that. Nervous fun for nervous people.

Samhain, Box Set (Evilive). Acolytes have been beseeching Glenn Danzig for years to reissue the albums by his pre-Danzig unit Samhain; now that it’s here, I hope they can afford it. They’ll want the box not so much for the five CDs of doomy, howling music that, though remastered and bonus-tracked, unavoidably still sound like demos; the grabbier prizes are the booklet, the comic book, the video and a most twisted metal pin, all crafted with the usual Danzigian care and flair. Buyers and gifters know one thing: Owning this artifact really says something about an individual.

JAZZ

Paul Wertico Trio, Don’t Be Scared Anymore (Premonition). Fusion music, resurrected and transfigured in glory. Chicago drummer Wertico, long the anchor of Pat Metheny’s band, teams with hometown buds John Moulder (guitar) and Eric Hochberg (bass, guitar, trumpet) for jungly or textured or trippy or just electrifying statements of purpose and passion, creating a world with each track. This record simply stands out.

Ritual Trio, Africa N’da Blues (Delmark). Kahil El’Zabar (drums), Ari Brown (piano, sax) and Malachi Favors (bass) precipitate Chicago’s avant tradition into graspable nuggets of rhythm and melody; the addition of Pharoah Sanders’ all-permeating sax is, of course, supremely natural. Batten the hatches when Pharoah launches into “Miles’ Mode”: The man is blowing.

Anthony Braxton, For Alto (Delmark). The year was 1969, and with Coltrane deceased, Chicago was seizing leadership of jazz’s advance forces. Then 24, Anthony Braxton had the yarbles to mark his territory with just an alto sax, ranging through melodies, blues, harmonic challenges and multiphonic noises over the span of a double LP. Listeners had to admit that the result, with song titles acknowledging the influence of Cecil Taylor, Leroy Jenkins and John Cage, was rigorously conceived and coherent ¾ unlike much of the “energy” jazz then current. Long out of print, For Alto is now reissued on a single CD, and you might be surprised.

Thelonious Monk, The Complete Prestige Recordings. Stuck between Monk’s longer stints with Blue Note and Riverside, and situated in a period right after his New York cabaret card was withdrawn when he was busted for possessing Bud Powell’s dope, his 1952 to 1954 dates for Prestige often get treated as secondary. Really, though, he was riding a sustained creative crest: Investigate the perfect solo in “Nutty,” a definitive “Trinkle, Tinkle” yanked from a bad piano, and inspired partnerships with Sonny Rollins, Frank Foster and Art Blakey. This three-CD box also packs four 1944 tracks with Coleman Hawkins and a famously bizarre 1954 encounter with Miles Davis featuring two Monk attempts to superimpose a halved time signature on “The Man I Love.” (Takes one and two are misidentified in the booklet notes.)

Maria Schneider Orchestra, Allégresse (Enja). The pairing of jazz and an orchestra tends to be a fight, one that jazz almost always loses. But Maria Schneider has been getting more and more attention for her work with big groupings, and it’s deserved. The Minnesotan’s light hand wafts the 19 instruments on Allégresse like a leaf in a breeze; her harmonies are modern without being forced or irritating ¾ here’s beauty you don’t have to be embarrassed about. Her old boss Gil Evans would smile.

Romano, Sclavis, Texier, Le Querrec, Carnet de Routes (Label Bleu). One of the marvels of socialism is the way you can get government money for strange art projects. Photographer Guy Le Querrec smoked up the notion that he could become some kind of Euro-griot by assembling three top French jazz musicians, trotting them around Africa and taking pictures. Later, the trio (drummer Aldo Romano, reedman Louis Sclavis and bassist Henri Texier) recorded music inspired by the experience, and put it in a CD-size package with a booklet featuring some 80 of Le Querrec’s black-and-white photos. The music, though it’s hardly African, radiates an intelligent, jumpy energy, and the pix are clean, well-composed and sometimes funny (my favorite: Africa Brass creator John Coltrane on African TV). Points for originality.

JAZZ BOOKS

Myself When I Am Real: The Life and Music of Charles Mingus by Gene Santoro (Oxford). Bassist-composer-bandleader Charles Mingus was an extremely complicated character ¾ angry, vulnerable, lusty, spiritual, crazy, prodigiously talented. So it’s kind of appropriate that The Nation columnist Gene Santoro treats his biography as an epic, with eyewitness testimonials that ring like the Gospel of Matthew and a telegraphic writing style a lot like James Ellroy’s. Interspersed with cultural parallels and jammed with details about Mingus’ racially ambivalent L.A. youth and revelations about previously underacknowledged influences, Myself When I Am Real is the most complete bio on its subject.

Jazz Generations: A Life in American Music and Society by Buddy Collette with Steven Isoardi (Continuum). More L.A. jazz: Reedman Buddy Collette was a lifelong friend and mentor to Mingus; he even persuaded Mingus to switch from cello to bass. Jazz Generations has the feel of a veteran simply recalling a full life, with a good memory and solid perspective. Collette reports Charlie Parker’s own version of why he was called “Bird,” takes you back to the amalgamation of the black and white musicians unions, relates a racial confrontation in Arlington, Virginia, when he was on his way to play JFK’s inauguration with Frank Sinatra. Exciting times, and Collette was on the frontlines.

Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece by Ashley Kahn (Da Capo). If there’s any jazz record that will inspire fans to scrutinize every “Ready?” and “What?” transcribed from the session tapes, it’s the 1959 slab Kind of Blue. The music just has that kind of universal pull, and the fact that — excepting Foreword author Jimmy Cobb — all the main participants (Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly) are dead adds to the mystique. Through 200-plus pages of musician commentary, scholarly research and pictures (many from the actual dates), Ashley Kahn shows why fan derives from fanatical.

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