1999

Saving the German cinema seems like a campaign to save the boll weevil, but with LOLA RENNT, Tom Tykwer did the job. A simple but powerful story filmed in a wildly experimental style, mixing fast-moving action with philosophical questions about fate and coincidence, making for a highly exciting ride -- this very "un-German" movie was a critical and commercial success with international appeal. LOLA RENNT was so much Tom Tykwer's own vision that he did not only write the screenplay and direct the movie, but he also (together with Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil) created a powerful soundtrack which blended perfectly with the images on the screen. Basically, the LOLA RENNT soundtrack consists of high-paced techno music; the pounding score effectively underscored the desperate running of Lola attempting to save her boyfriend Manni. Without seeing the movie, the music at first seems to be rather bland, a bit generic and not as strong as in the film -- but this is a wrong, hasty assessment. After a couple of listens (seeing the movie more than once helps, too) the atmosphere of the film starts to shine through the soundtrack, the memorable visuals of the movie are slowly evoked again until both the music and the movie are logically linked.

Before Hancock's 1984 album SOUND-SYSTEM was released, this advance single (referring to the album as being called HARDROCK) allowed a first glance at the FUTURE SHOCK follow-up. With "Hardrock", Laswell and Hancock took their "Rockit" approach into, well, harder regions. The funk-meets-beats-meets-turntable-scratching foundation of the original song (and album) is spiced up with rock guitar riffs (by Nicky Skopelitis and Henry Kaiser), more sound effects, more rhythm changes, and more of Laswell's cut-ups. Though the song is called "Long Version," it's actually the album version. The B-side of the single features Grandmixer D.St.'s "American Mega-Mix," which is a remix featuring all songs from FUTURE SHOCK (except "Earth Beat") plus the famous bassline from "Chameleon" (taken from the 1984 remix), and several other records as well (such as Shango's "Shango Funk Theology"). It's an interesting listen for Hancock fans and shows D.St.'s turntablist skills, but it isn't necessarily a brilliant track. The third track is "TFS" (taken from the FUTURE SHOCK album), a groovy mixture of robotic drums, futuristic synths and funky keyboards.

Conceived as a soundtrack to a non-existent movie, the third CD released by the French fashion house APC (Atelier de Production et de Creation) is a masterpiece crafted by "The Man Who Needs No Sleep," aka Bill Laswell, who already worked on the first two discs. This recording, which was done in five days, has also been released with the subtitle "Ambience Dub, Vol. 1." The credits on the sleeve aren't very helpful -- in fact, the whole CD's artwork consists of a sketchy table drawn by hand, with the musicians' names scribbled among the song titles and numbers indicating their percentage of contribution but nothing else -- so we have to guess at the individual activities. Laswell himself plays his trademark dub bass and, being the producer and mastermind of this recording, he's responsible for the drum programs and various sounds as well. Guitar player Nicky Skopelitis is easily recognizable. Then there's APC designer Jean Touitou, probably playing keyboards; J.B. Mondino, who might play guitar; and Thierry Planelle, obviously adding samples and sounds.

Scandinavia is definitely a place which sends new impulses in jazz. After trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer's KHMER in 1997, which presented a fresh combination of ECM jazz, ambient, and electronica, here's ELECTRONIQUE NOIRE by guitarist Eivind Aarset, who was on of the musicians on KHMER. Again, we're exposed to such a mixture, but this time, the stew is spiced up by more different ingredients: programmed beats combine with the live drumming of Anders Engen and Kim Ofstad, creating a whole new drum'n'bass experience; there are hints of techno and rock, and the styles of jazz and ambient are to a large extent covered in several shades by Aarset's guitars, alternately -- according to the liner notes -- straight, treated, e-bowed, looped, ugly and pretty, and many of his guitar tracks are heavily processed or "pretty dissonant" to start with. Guests include Molvaer and Bugge Wesseltoft, another important figure in this new jazz movement. As the title of the album suggests, most of the tracks delve into an eerie, haunting mood and are quite dark, particularly the creepy "Dark Moisture" and "Spooky Danish Waltz," which is just that -- invoking pictures of ghosts dancing a waltz. "Wake-Up Call" is very rockish, with some killer guitar soloing, while "Entrance/U-Bahn" (which is based on a live recording) presents the most successful mix of underground electronica and jazz. The more ambient pieces on the CD, like the title track or "Namib," are less captivating and, surprisingly, more ethereal and less sinister than the high-energy tracks, but they're still interesting enough and add a nice peaceful feel to a disc which shows up more new directions for jazz to follow. While ELECTRONIQUE NOIRE is not as accessible as KHMER, it certainly is just as recommendable, and it makes one curious about what Aarset's future recordings will sound like.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on May 29, 1999.

------------------
4 8 15 16 23 42


The concept which Bill Laswell and Alan Douglas conceived for this CD has been tackled by various musicians with varying results, taking the jazz tradition of the past and updating them for the present, with hip-hop beats and the like. This mixture has often enough resulted in lukewarm acid jazz or, worse yet, cynical cash-ins, although gems can be found. Thanks to Laswell's unique vision, however, the music on this disc is nothing short of amazing. The renditions of vocalese jazz standards (including "Moody's Mood for Love," Stan Getz's "Little Boy Don't Get Scared" and Duke Ellington's "Cottontail") are built around a vocal duo from Brooklyn, Asante, and Laswell himself. He doesn't just play his dubby bass, but also programmed the hip-hop beats and contributed sounds in general (some of which were taken from his earlier releases: compare "Blue" to "33" from VALIS II). That's not all, however; apart from the soulful vocals of Asante, singers include Dana Bryant (whose voice is incredibly sexy), Alicia Renee, and even rap pioneer Grandmaster Melle Mel. Amina Claudine Myers, who plays some funky organ and electric piano on various tracks, also sings on one track. Adding to the hip-hop element are turntablists Roc Raida and DXT; Laswell himself also does some scratching. The jazz element is brought in by saxophonist Byard Lancaster and cornetist Graham Haynes (both restrained and intense at once) and the subdued, bluesy guitar work of Brandon Ross and Nicky Skopelitis. Finally, Karl Berger is an important voice on most of the tracks; he not only arranged and conducted the Material Strings (sounding romantic but cliché-free), but also plays vibes and keyboards. Two tracks deserve special mention: "Blue" (a Joni Mitchell cover) is the only instrumental track, apart from the one-minute and 47-second "Fade" at the end of the disc -- and it's pure melancholy, thanks to Berger's textures and Haynes' echoey cornet. The other one is "Cottontail," which Laswell treated with a drum'n'bass loop and some priceless "walking dub bass." Bootsy Collins has a short cameo on this track. The biggest plus of this album is that it's never afraid of being sentimental, with its full strings and lush arrangements, but at the same time it's completely free of cheese and clichés. Laswell has indeed blended various styles into a fresh and original sound which sounds traditional and new at once. Who says that staying in the tradition has to imply sounding like a xerox of it?




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on April 11, 1999.

------------------
4 8 15 16 23 42

CARAVAN BEYOND REDEMPTION is a captivating album for all of its 70-plus-minute running time. Starting from their usual brand of doom metal, heavily influenced by Black Sabbath, but boasting an original, individual style at the same time, Cathedral throw in various surprises this time to make things interesting. While the "stoner" rock style dominates the sound, '70s funk infects the rhythms -- most of these songs feature a (more or less sublime) groove that is irresistible. Sometimes insidious wah-wah guitars recall "Shaft" ("Freedom," "Revolution"), while on other occasions a bongo section adds spice ("Voodoo Fire"). Various voice recordings appear, and "Captain Clegg" is a Hammer Horror homage, complete with movie samples. "The Caravan" is an affectionate nod to Cathedral's idols (remember "Planet Caravan"?). All of these elements are integrated organically into the music, which nonetheless is a crushing fest of heavy yet melodic riffs. Vocalist Lee Dorrian's voice is cleaner this time (actually intelligible), going with the harmonies instead of fighting against them -- though he doesn't give up his growling shouter persona. The lyrics mostly reward investigation, with a lot of social commentary and inspired madness; the words of "The Omega Man" (greetings from "Iron Man") are truly eerie, presenting a mixture of paranoia and apocalypse. After the last song (which surprises the listener by getting slower instead of faster) is over, there's five minutes of silence (Cathedral's extended version of "4'33"?), followed by some senseless crowd noises. Never mind this hidden "track"; the 12 songs on CARAVAN BEYOND REDEMPTION are inspired and intelligent and definitely worth seeking out.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on March 2, 1999.
------------------
4 8 15 16 23 42

KHMER is surely the most unusual album ever released by ECM -- unusual because the label, which is best known for elevated chamber jazz, presents the solo debut of trumpeter Nils Petter Molvaer as a production that plays with modern electronica methods while not eschewing the well-known ECM aesthetic. Molvaer's music is somewhere between scary and majestic, and changes between ominous ambient sounds and hard breakbeats, along which atonal screeching guitars combined with melancholic melodies, create a fascinating mélange. Above all this thrones Molvaer's trumpet: lyrical, hectic, calm and sad, trembling and screaming. Molvaer is one of the most progressive and intelligent voices in jazz today, and with KHMER he's recorded one of the best jazz albums of the '90s. Two CD singles were released in addition to this album. The first, KHMER: THE REMIXES contains three remixes of KHMER songs (an ECM novum, too), from Rockers Hi-Fi among others; the second, LIGOTAGE, offers a new track and another remix. The first CD single was included in the U.S. release of KHMER.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on February 27, 1999.

------------------
4 8 15 16 23 42

This 12" single was released in 1983 as an advance for Herbie Hancock's album FUTURE SHOCK, presenting its hit "Rockit." Even though the cover says that the track is featured in a "stretched version" (on the disc label, it's called the "long version"), this simply refers to the fact that there's also a three-minute edit of this track available. The version included here is exactly the same as the album version of this Grammy-winning song which propelled Hancock onto the charts, made Bill Laswell an "in" producer, became the unofficial anthem of the breakdance craze, and presented the turntable as a solo instrument for the very first time. Not to mention that the accompanying video is justly considered a classic.

Have You Ever Seen The Pain of many a jazz fan who's listening to certain '70s albums of certain jazz musicians? Stanley Turrentine recorded various albums for CTI in the early 1970s which perfectly blended the commercial with the artistic (thanks to producer Creed Taylor), but when Stanley left CTI, the artistic seemed to mostly stay behind.

This 1975 album for Fantasy features (according to the credits) "a full string section" -- with emphasis on the word "full" -- which means that the songs are drowning in saccharine string arrangements. These songs are all ballads, including two Earth, Wind & Fire songs ("Reasons" and "That's the Way of the World"), Marlena Shaw's "You" and the title track by Creedence Clearwater Revival. What's probably most disappointing about this record is the waste of an impressive lineup: the rhythm section consists of Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, who are largely bereft of any musical personality here (can you imagine DeJohnette playing a set of commercial ballads?), although Carter stretches out a bit on "T's Dream." Then there's Patrice Rushen on keyboards and various session musicians, like Harvey Mason, Scott Edwards and David T. Walker (who manages to throw in one or two trademark licks). Freddie Hubbard, on trumpet and flugelhorn, plays a lot of beautiful but largely uninteresting solos and somehow doesn't really register. Stanley himself is soulful as usual. There are two tracks which are a bit faster than the rest -- "T's Dream" and "Tommy's Tune" -- which doesn't prevent them from still being basically ballads. The latter was written and arranged by Stanley's brother Tommy and is easily the best track (and the shortest one, too), providing a little flashback to the past and omitting the strings. Still, the record's kitsch level is extremely high, and just when you think it can't get any cheesier, the album always goes that extra mile.

But on a positive note, for some people at least, this might turn out to be one of the most beautiful and romantic albums of all time, if they're deeply in love and listening to this together with or without their object of desire. Perhaps this is exactly the kind of album you'd like to put on when you're with your girlfriend. Turrentine and Hubbard's playing is undeniably beautiful and romantic -- and there's something about this album which makes it a bit hard to dislike, perhaps because it'd be all too easy to dismiss it. It's probably also due to the fact that Stanley is always very sincere about what he does; he just wants to play ballads. With cynicism put aside, it's not easy to decide whether this record is a hideous cash-in, cheesy beyond belief, or if it's an unfiltered taste of Stanley's most romantic side. Perhaps it's both.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on January 30, 1999.

------------------
4 8 15 16 23 42

In 1975, Herbie Hancock's group the Headhunters, which brought him immense success at the time, released their first solo album. Produced by Hancock, but without his participation, the lineup features the THRUST group of Mike Clark on drums, Paul Jackson on bass, Bill Summers on percussion, and Bennie Maupin on various reeds, plus new guitarist DeWayne "Blackbird" McKnight, who toured with Hancock and performed on the MAN-CHILD and FLOOD albums. They added a few guests: three further percussionists (Zak Diouf, Baba Duru and Harvey Mason Sr. -- the latter was the first Headhunters drummer) and flutist Joyce Jackson. While the thought of a Hancock-less Headhunters might puzzle some listeners, the group did extremely well without him -- in fact, SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST may be the ultimate space-funk album. The interplay between all musicians is tighter than tight, especially in the rhythm section of Jackson-Clark-Summers, who can effortlessly make everything groove and move.

Whether you'll like ENCOUNTERS OF EVERY KIND, the follow-up to Meco's successful STAR WARS AND OTHER GALACTIC FUNK, depends on whether you like both lounge and disco. Or, more precisely, whether you'd like the thought of a discofied James Last orchestra with a science fiction theme and a bit of silliness thrown in for good measure. The orchestra, by the way, is made up of top session musicians (like Will Lee, Alan Shulman and Tom Malone) and even includes Randy Brecker.

The theme of this album is the "Meco Time Machine," which leads Meco and the listener through several epochs of time and space. "In the Beginning," we're thrown right into a prehistoric (as a matter of fact, 1, 348, 264 B.C.) setting, with furious pterodactyls sweeping across the sky. Next stop is "Roman Nights" (45 B.C.), at an orgy in the Senate Bath House with fanfares (the liner notes meticulously describe the whole travel). Then we're led to 1690 A.D., meeting "Lady Marion" in Sherwood Forest; this one sounds more like a classic Star Trek episode, but chirping birds are all around us. We're "Icebound" in the 1880 A.D. Antarctic next, with chillingly cold wind and creepy strings, but we'll quickly reach the next era on our agenda, "Hot in the Saddle," in 1881, invoking visions of "Bonanza," complete with gunshots, Indians, arrows and the cavalry!

Side two of the record presents the two most hilarious tracks; one is a rendition of "Crazy Rhythm" -- loungey swing in 1926 Chicago, not omitting the sudden raid by a couple of machine-gun-toting gangsters. In 1952's Johnsonburg, we're exposed to an unbelievable version of "Topsy" (yes, that Topsy), with "Smurfy" vocals by an alien family. Back to the present; we're watching the city from the top of the Millennium Building while listening to "Meco's Theme" -- might be a forgotten soundtrack to an equally forgotten '70s cop TV series. Lastly, we're heading right for the future, climbing atop Devil's Tower, Wyoming, to experience "Close Encounters" (of the Third Kind, of course); supported by a rendition of John Williams' famous theme.

It's hard to be halfway about this album; you'll either love it or hate it (who said that this only has to be valid for avant-garde records?), and I love it. A product of its time, and a rather silly one too, but actually very clever and inventive at the same time.




This review was written for the All-Music Guide on January 23, 1999.

------------------
4 8 15 16 23 42