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The Prize Patrol

The biggest musical winners from 1996.

William Parker
Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy
(Homestead)

During the freewheeling Sixties, many musicians saw jazz as a political weapon with which they could fire their rage at those who most needed to feel it. Bassist Parker, aided immeasurably by saxophonist Rob Brown, drummer Susie Ibarra and pianist Cooper Moore, revives this theory and, on "Compassion," "Malcolm's Smile" and "Holiday for Hypocrites," proves that it's got a lot of life in it yet.

Jimmy Scott
Heaven
(Warner Bros.)

You can be sure that it wasn't Scott who decided that "Heaven," a David Byrne number from his Talking Heads days, should serve as the signature for his newest installment; some suit at Warner Bros. probably suggested it. But its staggering beauty should be credited to Scott, who's among the most distinctive singers ever to use a microphone. Fragile, knowing, haunting.

World Saxophone Quartet
Four Now
(Justin Time)

There have been times when this ensemble has made music without any attempt to reach beyond fans of the outside thing. But Four Now finds reed wizards David Murray, Hamiet Bluiett, Oliver Lake and John R. Purcell using their gifts to invite more people to the party. The addition of African drums gives these eight slices of jazz life a celebratory complexion that will keep you coming back again and again.

MISCELLANEOUS

Barry Adamson
Oedipus Schmoedipus
(Mute)

Adamson has learned from Nick Cave, a onetime employer who co-wrote Oedipus's "The Sweetest Embrace," an understanding of character--and the importance of staying in it. He does so throughout this extremely odd but very enjoyable score to an imaginary film about a subject that Greek tragedians took out of the closet a few millennia ago. An idiosyncratic episode that's well worth hearing.

Creedle
When the Wind Blows
(Headhunter)

On the cover of Wind, Creedlers Dion Thurman, Tim Blankenship, Devon Goldberg and Cochemea Gastelum look like members of an early Ornette Coleman quartet--all white shirts, narrow ties and seriositude. But they don't just make jazz, or modern rock, or even punk rock: They make all of the above, often at exactly the same time. They set out on one difficult mission after another and--surprise--accomplish most of them.

Manfred HYbler and Siegfried Schwab
Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party
(Motel Records)

A friend who fancies himself a connoisseur of Z-grade cinema cautions me that the films of director Jess Franco, for which these soundtrack extracts were penned, are turgid and dull despite the striking amount of feminine pulchritude on display during them. So perhaps we're better off simply listening to these groovy/chintzy time-capsule instrumentals and imagining a good movie to go along with them. Action!

Supreme Dicks
The Emotional Plague
(Homestead)

For a combo whose handle rivals the Butthole Surfers' for sheer goofiness, the Supreme Dicks are a fairly severe lot. On "Columnated Ruins/ Seeing Distant Chimneys" and other succinctly titled airs, the Dicks draw from various divisions of the avant-garde to come up with some of the most off-kilter pop deconstruction since Sonic Youth met David Geffen. That's a strong recommendation, in case you were wondering.

Tricky
Pre-Millennium Tension
(Island)

Tricky would probably call what he does rap, or a variation thereof. But his sonic collages are too furtive to be so easily defined. In other words, he's a genre unto himself. Pre-Millennium Tension is a difficult album--you've got to sweat to plumb its depths. But those of you willing to roll up your sleeves will find that your toils will be rewarded tenfold. A stunner.

R&B/SOUL

Bass Is Base
Memories of the Soulshack Survivors
(Loose Cannon)

A soul outfit from Canada? Sounds nightmarish--like spending an evening with Loverboy. But this isn't Bob and Doug McKenzie with four-four drum patterns. East Indian vocalist Chin, Chinese/Trinidadian rapper and percussionist Mystic and French-Canadian multi-instrumentalist Ivana stir up a smooth and funky brew that follows its own path. Which ends at some interesting destinations.

Bomb the Bass
Clear
(Quango)

With Clear, producer Tim Simenon--the man behind Bomb the Bass--resists all efforts at classification. "One to One Religion" (voiced by Carlton) and "Tidal Wave" (with River singing) are hugely effective soul seducers, while "Somewhere" is an adventure in ambience and "Darkheart" is echoey pop reggae with Spikey Tee. That it all hangs together is a victory for Simenon--and a perk for you.

Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise
Robert Bradley's Blackwater Surprise
(RCA)

Bradley's bio sounds like Ted Hawkins's times two: The blind singer-songwriter spent decades entertaining for spare change on the streets of Detroit before being signed to RCA. But this isn't a one-man show. Three white hipsters--Michael Nehra, Andrew Nehra and Jeff Fowlkes--back Bradley with generally contemporary rock and soul. The combination is not an ideal one, but Bradley's scratchy-voiced genuineness makes it work.

Maxwell
Maxwell's Urban Hang Suite
(Columbia)

Shades of Marvin Gaye. On Suite, Maxwell, a notably mature prodigy, takes listeners on a guided tour of a memorable love affair--one that ends not in disappointment and melancholy, but in a proposal of marriage that seems sure to be accepted. It could have seemed corny and forced, but it doesn't. The disc is elegant and tantalizing--smooch music for the two of you.

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