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--John Jesitus

Various Artists
Talvin Singh Presents Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground
(Quango/Island/Polygram)

Singh, who's best known for his London club, the Blue Note, his work with Bjsrk, Adrian Sherwood and Courtney Pine, and his presence on David Bowie's 1997 European tour, is confident about his music; after all, he named this compilation of post-Bhangra works Anokha, a word that translates to "unique." Fortunately for him, the songs heard here more than live up to this claim. On the CD's lead track, "Jaan," the heavenly voice of singer Amar cascades over a brilliant blend of dance beats and syncopated vibrations emanating from a tabla, an instrument on which Singh was classically trained. Elsewhere, Kingsik Biswas's "K-Ascendant" and the Milky Bar Kid's "Accepting Tranquility" lean toward traditional Indian rhythms and instrumentation; Equal I's "Equation" and Lelonek's "Kismet" embrace the latest jungle and lounge-core tones; Future Soundz of India's "Shang-High" juxtaposes club-friendly bass and ancient hand drums; and soundtrack composer A.R. Rahman's "Mumbai Theme Tune" mingles ambient synths, flutes and quartet strings. The result fulfills one of Bill Clinton's campaign promises, by successfully connecting the past to the future. If you're looking for a bridge to the 21st century, here it is.

--Lemieux

Genesis
...Calling All Stations...
(Atlantic)

First Peter Gabriel left Genesis--but the group lived on. Then Phil Collins left--but it still didn't die. Then tiresome pomp-rockers Mike Rutherford and Tony Banks hired a new vocalist, John Wetton imitator Ray Wilson, who causes Stations to sound like warmed-over Asia. Isn't there anything that can kill this group? Really--I want to know.

--Roberts

Buena Vista Social Club
Buena Vista Social Club
(World Circuit Records/Nonesuch)

On this disc, amateur musicologist Ry Cooder produces and plays along with twenty of the most talented performers from Cuba's so-called golden age of music: the Fifties. But Buena Vista Social Club is far more than a mere curiosity. The players may be old, but they ignite a myriad of rhythms from classic Cuban compositions. On "Pueblo Nuevo," 77-year-old Ruben Gonzalez, who developed the Cuban urban piano style, gives the keys such a workout that it's hard to believe he gave up playing because of arthritis. His style, which combines James Booker's friskiness with Thelonious Monk's genius, is so riveting that you all but forget the trumpets, percussion and guitars vamping behind him. Vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer, age seventy, makes an equally strong impression: As a men's ensemble sings over a heavy, rhythmic riff, he croons with a potency that leaves Julio Iglesias sounding like a tired hen by comparison. Likewise, "Amor de Loca Juventud," an influencia americana country-blues number by Compay Segundo and his group, includes so many strolling guitars that the leftovers alone could feed a generation of musicians. As for Cooder, who has demonstrated his musical diversity throughout previous collaborations with African Ali Farka Toure and Indian V.M. Bhatt, he's difficult to identify in the mix. But in the end, it doesn't matter which guitar is his. What's more important is that his key has unlocked some of the most instantly accessible music I've ever heard. Delicioso.

--Jack Jackson

311
Transistor
(Capricorn)

Once upon a time, bad music was easy to hate. But as the blandification of Nineties music continues apace, I'm finding myself reacting to second-rate stuff masquerading as cutting-edge entertainment not with ire, but with boredom. The sounds made by these five nondescript sorts from Omaha, Nebraska, are a case in point. When touting 311's accomplishments, the act's supporters inevitably jabber about its eclecticism, and there's no denying that Transistor displays this quality: The 21 cuts on hand flirt with reggae, ska, metal, rap, funk, rock and plenty more, sometimes in the same song. But "flirt" is the operative word here. Vocalist/guitarist Nicholas Hexum and his crew don't dig into these formats in an attempt to discover their essences; they skim their surfaces, soaking up just enough flavor to impress naive listeners before moving on. In other words, they are just as guilty as Paul Simon of cultural appropriation, but they commit the act with infinitely more shallowness. It hardly seems worthwhile to call them dilettantes: The ultra-tepid reggae of "Light Years" and the snoozy Chili Peppers nod "Tune In" are too slack for that. An occasional tune (like the relatively punchy title track) stands out, but only because the majority of the ditties are so relentlessly lacking in heft--and lyrics like "I try to be not like that/But some people really suck" (from "Beautiful Disaster") only exacerbate the situation. The music is so disposable that it practically evaporates on the journey from the CD player to your ear--which explains a great deal about my inability to get worked up over its inadequacies. How can you despise something that's not even there?

--Roberts

Ornette Coleman and Joachim Kuhn
Colors--Live From Leipzig
(Harmolodic, Inc.)

Coleman's alto sax sounds like a million dollars, and maybe more; melodies gush out of it like the ATM of your dreams spits out twenties. But Kuhn's piano playing doesn't pay off nearly as well. Previous Coleman duet partners such as bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Pat Metheny have simulated the master's perverse amalgamation of intellectual rigidity and stylistic warmth when playing alongside him, but the chamber-jazz refrigeration of Kuhn's approach gets the balance all wrong. The production of Denardo Coleman, Ornette's son, only reinforces this impression. Because the saxophone is far louder than the keyboards, Coleman often sounds as if he's trying to give Kuhn the bum's rush.

--John Young

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