PLAYLIST

Henry Threadgill
Makin' a Move
(Columbia)

That Threadgill--a jazz-based saxophonist whose work with the trio Air and a variety of bands that have borne his name has ranged from the indescribably beautiful to the merely gorgeous--keeps landing on major labels is a credit to his perseverance. Clearly, he's not in this for the money; compared to the Kenny Gs of the world, he's been making minimum wage his entire career. So, dare we say it, his art must be what spurs him on--and this same inspiration also keeps Makin' a Move consistently fascinating. Threadgill's certainly not the type to make concessions to accessibility or to take a predictable course of action: What other performer, working in any genre, would have the nerve to kick off an album with a song (the notably quiet "Noisy Flowers") on which he doesn't even appear? Elsewhere, Threadgill, producer Bill Laswell and accompanists such as drummer Pheeroan Aklaff, electric guitarists Brandon Ross and Ed Cherry, and tuba players Edwin Rodriguez and Macus Rojas take musical travelers over varied terrain. "Like It Feels" and "Make Hot and Give" are swirling, precisely structured and sometimes almost celebratory, while "Official Silence" and "Refined Poverty" are craggy, moody and downright poignant. True, the material requires active listening, but it rewards the attention paid it with a musical depth that's beyond most players--and that Threadgill achieves effortlessly. Put quite simply, he is a great twentieth-century artist. And, believe it or not, you might like what he does.--Michael Roberts

Yoko Ono
New York Rock--Original Cast Recording
(Capitol Records)

This stage musical makes a listenable album--but what is it for? Ono composed some new tunes to give a little conceptual body to songs collected from more than twenty years' worth of recordings, with and without her late husband; the one or two "uplifting" bummers are balanced by "We Are All Water" (from 1972's Some Time in New York City) and the sarcastic "I Feel Like Smashing My Face in a Clear Glass Window." I like the way some of these songs combine Fifties style with sardonic Nineties sentiments--Ono was probably ahead of her time lyrically, even if her abstractions are often abrasive. But the politely powerful off-Broadway singers heard here falsify songs drawn from early-Eighties efforts such as Double Fantasy, Milk and Honey and (especially) the 1981 solo album Season of Glass. Moreover, the plot, which concerns violence and street kids, has moments of pathos and clarity, but not enough to suggest any deep meanings. The disc as a whole suggests that in spite of all her talents and bona fides, Ono, like Courtney Love, simply doesn't speak across the universe. Rather, she's just a small part of the large, loud crowd out there.--John Young

Silverchair
Frogstone
(Epic)

It's a familiar refrain. First, some sort of sonic revolution takes place. Then, armies of A&R men scurry about seeking copies, clones and counterfeits. Record buyers, attuned to the latest sound, verify that choice by selecting safe marketability over originality. And finally, cultists and critics bitch and moan. Sigh. But we've all got to do what we've got to do--which brings us to this release by Epic signee Silverchair, a Pearl Jam sound-alike from Australia. Not that it actually matters where the band hails from--the flannel-wearing, caffeine-sucking feel of Seattle circa 1989 bleeds from every track. Yep, it's the g-thing again: dissonant but undistinctive guitars, thrashing drums, sincere and angst-ridden vocals, all recorded by goateed teenagers who treasure their copies of Houses of the Holy. If you like this style, fine--Frogstone is for you. But if you're looking for a Pearl Jam dead ringer, beware: A couple of songs here sound more like Soundgarden.--Steve Boland

Merle Haggard
A Tribute to the Best Damn Fiddle Player in the World (or, My Salute to Bob Wills)

(Koch)

At their best, tribute albums tell us something new about both the artist being celebrated and the performer doing the celebrating. And so it is with the newly reissued Fiddle, which sounds just as spirited and reverent this very second as it did when Haggard laid down these twelve gems in the spring of 1970. The music invented and popularized by Wills is both sprightly and unexpectedly sophisticated, and Haggard and his helpers (including six former members of Wills's band, the Texas Playboys) catch their essence perfectly; while the original "San Antonio Rose" can never be topped, this version comes closer to matching it than anyone had a right to expect. Moreover, the relatively modern studio techniques employed on the session allow the intricacies of Wills's canon to shine through more clearly than ever. As for Haggard, he leaves the outlaw/reactionary side of his personality on the shelf in order to devote himself entirely to the task at hand (he even introduces "Brown Skinned Gal" in a suitably respectful voice). Thus, the Haggard persona, and the shadow he continues to cast over the modern country tradition, grows ever larger.--Roberts

 
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