Cold Vein (Def Jux)
The dirt-slathered beats lumber with a sinister lope, escapees from a mad scientist’s lab. Pieced together from electronic splinters, lost analog loops and other mangled music, the downtempo tracks sound like trip-hop gone to hell and back. They’re the antithesis of the shiny perfection of Swizz Beats or the Neptunes, yet just as meticulous in their studio-engineered intricacy. Produced by El-P of the defunct Company Flow, Cold Vein’s music is a ballet of chaos, gorgeous yet grimy, beautiful yet baleful.
As striking as El-P’s aggressive auditory assault is the ability of Cannibal Ox — a.k.a. Vordul Megilah and Vast Aire — to stay in sync with the pace and feel of the tracks, no small feat. Vast comes with more force than finesse, but despite his deliberate, plodding flow, his commanding baritone stomps a lasting impression. Vordul lacks Vast’s presence but makes up for it with lyrics more complex than a Wu Tang cipher session. Try unpacking this line from “A B-Boy’s Alpha”: “All of us canoeing/through sewers/with juvenile maneuvers/Caught up in nooses/from borders with troubleshooters.” At once confusing and compelling, Cannibal Ox pen abstract philosophies grounded in street realism.
The result is a synergistic meeting of mind and music that makes for one of the most striking albums so far this year, in hip-hop and otherwise. Without taking anything away from Vast’s and Vordul’s verbalistics, however, it’s still El-P’s soundplay that anchors Cold Vein. Layering samples and snippets too deep to unravel, he can switch from angelic grace (“Iron Galaxy”) to carnival funk (“Painkillers”) to cacophonous brutality (“Raspberry Fields”). Best believe the end of the world never sounded so good.
Box Set (Rhino)
An enigma wrapped in bushy sideburns and suede fringe jackets, the Buffalo Springfield saga seems ever more implausible as the years go by. There’s the blink-and-miss-’em meeting on Sunset Boulevard of Canadian expats Neil Young and Bruce Palmer and Greenwich Village refugees Stephen Stills and Richie Furay — one infinitesimal change in the events of that fateful day, and Young and Palmer would have driven to San Francisco to meet an entirely different musical destiny. There’s the vital but volatile relationship between Stills and Young, the latter of whom was discouraged by bandmates and management alike from singing lead because his voice sounded too “weird.” There’s Furay, the eternal nice guy whose pipes lent Young’s songs a more commercial flavor but whose own material got caught in the constant Stills-Young crossfire. There’s the old-school management team of Charlie Green and Brian Stone, whose inept production almost ruined the first Springfield album. There are the walkouts, the drug- and draft-related legal hassles, the lone Top 10 hit (1967’s “For What It’s Worth”), and David Crosby’s guest appearance with the band at the Monterey Pop Festival, all compressed into a mere 25-month period.
And then, of course, there’s the music. As Rhino’s long-anticipated four-disc box attests, Buffalo Springfield was a freakishly talented band that somehow managed to distill the chaos of its brief existence into three albums of compelling, genre-busting rock music. Recorded in the summer of ’66 at Hollywood’s Gold Star Studios, the 11 acoustic demos that open Disc 1 sound both innocent and astonishingly sophisticated, embodying many of the same contradictions that would come to haunt the band’s career. Although the Springfield hadn’t been playing on the Sunset Strip for more than a few months, Young had already penned the spectral “Out of My Mind,” a fame-triggered freak-out even more harrowing than his subsequent “Mr. Soul.” Yet he was evidently pragmatic enough about his songwriting career to demo “There Goes My Babe” for Sonny and Cher, Green and Stone’s other major clients. Stills’ early demos are full of bluster and bonhomie, almost too big for the room, while Furay’s are gentle slices of early country-rock. These guys wanted to form a band together? What could they have been smoking?
Other highlights include the Stills-sung version of Young’s “Down to the Wire”; the fuzz-raga rave-up of “Buffalo Stomp,” featuring Skip Spence of Moby Grape on kazoo; early demos of Young’s “Old Laughing Lady” and “Round and Round and Round”; and a lovely piano demo of “Four Days Gone.” The previously released tracks (especially the first and second albums, included in their entirety on Disc 4) sparkle like never before, highlighting the band’s willful collision of folk, country, blues, R&B, British Invasion and Sunset Strip influences. Like the Byrds and the Burritos, Buffalo Springfield helped pave the way for the Eagles, Loggins & Messina, and a whole mess of mustachioed wimps with acoustic guitars, but their own music was far more fierce and complex than that grisly legacy might suggest. Here’s your proof. (Dan Epstein)
First Reflections (Mud Memory/Dischord)
This one almost slipped by: The band name (Warhol’s cracked-up post-deb), cover (empty mirrors on a pink-and-gray background) and track listings (13 songs named for celebrities) all bespeak depths of ironic twee better left unplumbed in most cases. The D.C.-based duo’s high-concept hook is their tabloid-ready subject matter, with everyone from Jane Fonda (“And what’s your position on the hee-haw?”) to Meryl Streep (“Virtuosity and professionalism!”) polished off in a few deliberately shallow phrases. Some selections read as internal monologues (“I don’t want to grow up in Pampers,” says “Macaulay Culkin”), others barely glance at their alleged subjects (“Sean Young”?), and the net effect is that of William Burroughs cutting up a year’s worth of Interview.
As for tweeness? Hardly — these aren’t even pop songs. Members Justin Moyer and Ryan Hicks turn out to be an adept and resourceful bass-and-drums unit, obviously informed by hardcore (as their association with Fugazi’s house label suggests), but far less taken with noise-as-power than such bottom-feeding twosomes as GodheadSilo (or current practitioners Pink & Brown). The opening riffs of “Faye Dunaway” or “Tom Cruise” could pass for Punch Line–era Minutemen (minus D. Boon), but nearly every cut makes room for self-interrupting elements, often referencing heavier-duty art music. The clattery improv passages come from the Paul Lytton/Barry Guy “non-idiomatic” playbook, while “Christina Ricci” builds on brown-frequencied bass sustain that would do Devin Sarno proud.
The point isn’t entirely parodic — these guys can actually pull off the sounds — but it does seem as though they mean to give the self-styled importance of several underground subgenres a healthy tweak, with a handful of cultural-studies savvy tossed in for good measure. First Reflections might be taken more seriously if it name-checked Gramsci and Adorno rather than Paltrow and Swank, but it wouldn’t be one whit more politically efficacious, nor half as much fun. (Franklin Bruno)
Orlando Cachaíto López
ORLANDO Cachaíto López
Cachaíto (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
After the soulful retro-Cubano of previous Buena Vista Social Club outings, Cachaíto injects shocks o’ mighty into the tropical-jam continuum. The guest-laden Havana and London sessions anchored by Social Club standup bassist Orlando “Cachaíto” López pull together the Latin-jazz improv of descarga (co-pioneered by López’s dad, Orestes, and uncle, Cachao) and occasional Orquesta Aragon–like strings with dub whoosh, R&B chomp and even metropole DJ style. A general rambunctiousness rules, fostering atmospherics far afield from the nostalgic ache of much earlier BVSC work.
Just two minutes into “Redención,” an echo-delayed string-section stanza signals this is not your father’s descarga, while Manuel Galban’s reverb-soaked Fenderisms roll over “A Gozar el Tumbao” like a rogue twilight. “Tumbanga” finds Hugh Masekela’s flügelhorn riding Miguel “Anga” Diaz’s monstrous congas, López’s fat-bottom badda-boom and Bigga Morrison’s Hammond-organ version-excursion deep into the postcolonial mystic. The aptly titled “Cachaíto in Laboratory” kicks it with DJ Dee Nasty’s scratch-and-burn turntablisms as the main bassman seeps clave and the brass section buzzes just over the treetops.
When I saw Cachaíto on a late-April European tour date at Brussels’ Ancienne Belgique, he fronted a more stripped-down group. Sans strings, turntables and extra horns, the sound vibed wide in a pan-Caribbean direction. Dread prankster Morrison’s humorous Hammond organics and dub-box echo bubbled through the irrepressible Havana rumblings of Diaz, bongo bruddah Carlos Gonzalez and ageless timbales ace Amadito Valdes. Galban’s stroked leads veered between shambolic and shimmering, though he kept a stranglehold on the montuno, vivifying the almighty Cuban groove that would normally flow from the pianist’s left hand. Astride it all, smiling and unfailingly deep in the pocket, Cachaíto maintained his master’s touch without heavy-handedness or ego gusts.
at the Hollywood Bowl, July 23
The most astonishing thing about Sade’s recent appearance at the Hollywood Bowl wasn’t her ageless beauty, the impressive chops of her criminally underrated band or the palpable love washing up from the crowd onto the stage. It was the surprising reach and power of her stage presence — a combination of soul-princess cool and earth-mother vibes — which brought the crowd to an absolute hush during songs like “The Sweetest Gift,” “Jezebel” and a lovely version of “It’s Only Love That Gets You Through,” then drove them insane when she unleashed guttural wails on “Pearls” and “Is It a Crime?” Where so many female entertainers today are on a cut-and-paste rampage through trends and pop history in order to secure iconic status, Sade effortlessly evokes the likes of Edith Piaf and Billie Holiday. She does it through a persona that — radical notion — fuses style with substance, in which compassion, empathy and a bruised but resilient heart are the points of connection between her and fans.
Regal and impossibly sexy (her low-key synchronized choreography with her two backing singers during “Flow,” and the African dance-inflected/ass-emphasizing moves she did throughout the show, were sexier than the entire careers of Janet, Madonna and Britney combined), Sade commanded the stage from the moment she stepped from behind the sheer scrim. And while it would have been very cool if the band had broken out with “Clean Heart,” “Bullet Proof Soul” or other lesser-known cuts, the inventive video projections and unexpectedly playful dance steps showed a willingness to tweak persona and defy expectation.
Opening act India Arie proved herself to be a muscular musician and outgoing performer. Playfully strumming the opening to OutKast’s “So Fresh, So Clean” on her guitar, turning in a flawless rendition of “Summertime” in a duet with Leroy Osbourne (Sade’s longtime backup singer) and pumping up the soul quotient on tracks like “Part of My Life,” “I See God in You” and “Nature” from her debut album, Acoustic Soul, she made you want to see her in a smaller venue, where a more responsive crowd could vibe to the music and not just use her impressive set to bide their time. (Ernest Hardy)
Harold Land, 1928–2001
Harold Land was a damn good saxist, and even if few outside of his near-lifetime Southern California home region would recognize his name, everybody in the intercontinental jazz community knew his worth. No point in assigning Land to an era: He moved from swing to bop to hard bop to freer explorations with a confidence few could imitate, and relished every change. When Max Roach and Clifford Brown needed a tenor in 1954, they called Land. When Thelonious Monk wanted to add West Coasters to his band for a 1960 San Francisco gig/recording (At the Blackhawk), he got Land. And so it was for many years, whether he played as a sideman or led his own groups. In the last couple of decades, L.A. clubgoers found Land settling into an individualistically classic sound that incorporated an edgy bluesiness, a dark sensuality, a subtle ability to twist and turn a standard, and a loose sense of swing. He always swung. Always. He died last week of a massive stroke. Among other family, he leaves a son, Harold Land Jr., who’s a fine jazz pianist. He also leaves a lot of fine memories.