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.

Frisell is a relatively well-known electric guitarist whose virtuosity has earned him comparisons with Hendrix (though Frisell's approach is more intellectual and less soulful). For this 1991 live date in Spain, which included several reworked Frisell standards, Frisell pared down from larger groups to his longtime core: bassist Kermit Driscoll and drummer Joey Baron.

Frisell can play with great lyricism, but is rarely content with that alone. "Throughout," for instance, begins as a hushed and reflective piece of great beauty, then expands into more aggressive riffs and high-arcing rock pyrotechnics that remain incidental to the prevailing melody. More typically, Frisell assembles a composition out of short and diverse shards of rhythm, noise, and melody, advancing a piece's overall thrust with brief, dynamic snapshots of sound. A tune like "Rag" emerges gradually, layered with lots of intriguing musical asides. "Crumb" makes an even more tortured jaunt; from a disjointed mélange of curious noodling, scratching and honking effects, and soaring notes juxtaposed with frenetic chording, it gradually works itself into shadowy figures reminiscent of Sonny Rollins's "No Moe" before finally shifting into the Rollins tune. Frisell can even be unpredictably predictable, as in his essentially straight cover of John Hiatt's "Have A Little Faith In Me."

The Clusone Trio's faith sticks pretty much to improvisational jazz and, like the Frisell trio's work, is big on dramatic textural variations. The Amsterdam-based group consists of American Michael Moore on alto sax, bass clarinet and clarinet, with Dutchmen Ernst Reijseger and Hans Bennink on cello and percussion. Recorded at five different concerts in 1993, I Am An Indian is a virtual microcosm of jazz styles, from traditional New Orleans stuff to swing, bop and free jazz, all jumbled into a freewheeling context in which noise butts up against Duke Ellington and Irving Berlin.

In fact, two versions of Berlin's "I'm An Indian, Too"--both of which get around to hard swinging by different, circuitous routes--provide a theme that Moore picks up in his own "Wigwam." It begins with minimalist cello sawing, works through a minefield of scattered aural effects and a slew of percussive textures, into tonal explorations from the bass clarinet, a frenetic segment bristling with rock energy, and finally segues into a lyrical run through Ellington's "Angelica." (Although the melodramatic "Indian" war whoops and tom-toms, however, come straight from the late show and are offered without apparent irony, almost mocking the rest of the piece.) Elsewhere, the Clusones rarely waver from pieces rife with familiar elements, whether Bud Powell's bop or a Brazilian samba, yet drifting on the outer fringes of improv jazz amid aural space debris. Like Frisell, Driscoll and Baron, Moore and company work as a complex unit, and their interplay reveals deeper sonic insights with every listen. (Rick Mason)


P.M. Dawn
Jesus Wept
Gee Street

MAYBE IT SAYS something about rap's limitations that hip-hop's most creative acts need to move away from the form in order to expand artistically. While the Beastie Boys, for example, head increasingly (back) toward hard rock and early funk, P.M. Dawn continues its course into the outer space of sonic gloss. Perhaps Jesus Wept, the duo's third album, relies on a celestial combination of airy R&B and acoustic hippie pop to float the Cordes brothers (Prince Be and J.C. the Eternal) into a higher level of consciousness than booming beats and rhythmic rhymes could deliver. Or more likely, P.M. Dawn's musical evolution simply indicates that these Jersey City homeboys are individuals unwilling to be limited or formatted.

Jesus Weptis, in fact, not all that different from the heady potion of English psychedelic synth pop, East Coast new jack sway, and New Age metaphysics the group brewed on 1993's The Bliss Album--only it's much more that way. Prince Be's existential voyage through his religious/spiritual identity crisis is surprisingly endearing, and songs like "The 9:45 Wake-Up Dream" and "Apathy...Superstar!?" are every bit as inventive as their titles suggest. And though the duo's typically heavy- handed production can make the mix sound more like marshmallow at times, mostly the lush string/piano/acoustic guitar orchestrations ("Sonchyenne"), smooth dance beats ("My Own Personal Gravity"), and well-placed samples ("Downtown Venus") make Jesus Wept another exquisite slice of P.M. Dawn's gourmet aural pastries. (Roni Sarig)

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