Roundup

Kip Hanrahan
All Roads Are Made of the Flesh
American Clavé

DENSE, COMPLEX AND full of musical daredevilry, Kip Hanrahan's All Roads Are Made of the Flesh brings together an amazing group of musicians who seize their material and torch it. Although each of the seven tracks has its own feel and lineup of musicians, the unifying thread is a kind of conspiratorial tension that underlies both the lyrics and the music, which bristles with the intent to redefine the relationship/divisions between jazz, blues and funk.

As with most of his projects, Hanrahan--like kindred spirit Hal Willner--doesn't play a note here. But as composer, arranger, conductor and ringleader of this eclectic crew, his influence permeates the stuff. And what a crew: Charles Neville (of the Neville Brothers) on tenor sax; Willie Green on drums; New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint; saxophonists George Adams and Chico Freeman; Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli; Latin percussion giants Jerry Gonzalez and Milton Cardona--and that's just for starters. The most prominent contributors are former Cream bassist/vocalist Jack Bruce--who has worked extensively with Hanrahan over the past decade--and adventurous jazz pianist Don Pullen, who delivers some of his final recordings before his recent death.

Things kick off with a sizzling cover of Jelly Roll Morton's "Buddy Bolden's Blues." Bruce's grainy saloon-blues vocals take their intonation and phrasing directly from the late, great Danny Barker. Toussaint weighs in with a brilliant piano segment that ranges from traditional New Orleans jazz to second line and gospel while quoting Morton, Professor Longhair and even Gershwin; Neville adds sultry and insinuating sax, and Pullen pumps away soulfully on organ.

Later, Nocentelli launches "...at the same time as the subway train was pulling out of the station..." with wickedly funky riffs bolstered by taut Latin percussion; the piece soon evolves into a full-throttle free jazz/funk workout with swirling textures of violin, trumpet, guitar, drums and sax, all peppered by dissonant bolts from Pullen's piano.

Elsewhere, Carmen Lundy immerses herself in a steamy ballad with serious salacious intent and a cabaret aura courtesy of Dino Saluzzi's sly bandoneon. African spirits hover over another piece that emerges from a pensive Neville solo into a scuttling, ebb-and-flow clash of sensibilities. And Pullen seems to punctuate the entire effort with a brief but strikingly pretty and straightforward piano solo. Hanrahan may not physically strike a match here, but Flesh sounds like he's trying to reinvent fire as sound. It's hot. (Rick Mason)


Lenny Kravitz
Circus
Virgin

ON THE OPENING cut to Lenny Kravitz's latest album, the rock star falls just short of completely writing off his own existence. The song "Rock and Roll Is Dead" is a standard indictment of the fabled rock & roll lifestyle ("You're living for an image... you got five hundred women in your bed"). It's ironic, though, that Kravitz himself has always played rock star to the hilt--not in any gross display of decadence, but rather through his pronounced narcissism and pretentiousness. If rock & roll really were dead, surely the Lenny Kravitzes of the world would have skulked into extinction by now.

But while rock & roll is clearly not dead, it has (we hope) changed since the days when rock stars flirted with the notion that they were serious anti-hero sex symbols with a mandate to sermonize. Kravitz's continued adherence to this ridiculous, often-parodied rock-star stance and attitude is what makes him--even more than his decidedly retrogressive music--an anachronism in current pop music. And while bands like Urge Overkill get away with Kravitz-like stud rock because they riff with their tongues firmly planted in their cheeks, Kravitz is all the more difficult to stomach because he's so lacking in irony.

If it's possible, though, to separate the music from the silly rock star who created it (or if you actually dig Kravitz's pose), Circus turns out to be a better-than-average classic rock record. "Magdalene" bursts with as much melody and enthusiasm as Matthew Sweet's power-pop; "Can't Get You Off My Mind" sways mid-tempo like the country-flavored rock of the '70s; meanwhile, "Don't Go And Put A Bullet In Your Head" is driven by a surprisingly non-retro drum-machine beat.

Circus is interesting as well for its heavy religious content. Though Kravitz's hippified vision of world harmony goes back to his first single, 1989's "Let Love Rule," never has he sounded more overtly Christian than here on songs like "God Is Love" and "The Resurrection." Traditional Christians might find his mix of sexuality with religion offensive (naked Lennys all over the CD booklet), and secular rock fans might find his beatitudes creepy. Still, if gangster rap or left-wing folk music are valid themes for pop music, there's certainly room as well for Kravitz's religious convictions and positive, if pompous vibe. (Roni Sarig)

Bill Frisell
Live
Gramavision/Rykodisc

Clusone Trio
I Am An Indian
Gramavision/Rykodisc

UNCOMPROMISING AND overflowing with sonic ideas and textures, this pair of live albums presents two adventurous trios that embrace many genres in a contemporary jazz context. Guitarist Frisell is more ecumenical, drawing on rock, country, folk, classical and jazz traditions, while the Clusones tap a wide range of jazz styles with a bit of classical influence. Besides their configurations, the groups share whimsical natures, true ensemble philosophies, and a taste for complex melodic structures and textural adventuring.

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