By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
By Gina Tron
By Jon Solomon
By Drew Ailes
By Courtney Harrell
By Kyra Scrimgeour
A pair of releases from Synergy Records should cheer jazz aficionados. The Russian Dragon Band, led by drummer/pianist Art Lande and featuring contributions by bassist Dwight Kilian, guitarist Khabu Doug Young and reed expert Bruce Williamson, checks in with When Kentucky Was Indiana. The CD incorporates several extended workouts (notably "Montgomery's Bitextural Peppermints," "Lorez" and "Black Ice") that put an eccentric, diverting twist on fusion-era Miles Davis, but even more satisfying are "Twas a Dark and Slormy Nite" and "Tai-Po Encounters Marines," a pair of somber fragments that sport a logic all their own. On Speak Low, the Paul Warburton Quartet pays allegiance to less idiosyncratic jazz traditions: "I Fall in Love Too Easily" and the other four numbers don't attempt to rewrite post-bop history. Rather, Warburton and his impeccable accompanists (Ron Miles, Eric Gunnison and Nat Yarborough) offer up a reminder of how beautiful this music can be if it's made with love by people who know what they're doing. And in this case, they do (Synergy Music, P.O. Box 6213, Denver 80206).
In "Mystery Man," Westword's September 12, 1996, profile of local cult figure Ralph Gean, Denver's Boyd Rice promised that a Gean CD would be forthcoming--and this promise has been kept. A Star Unborn, or What Would Have Been If What Is Hadn't Happened: The Amazing Story of Ralph Gean is the not-very-succinct title of a disc that is everything a Gean fancier could have wished for. The graphics, which feature vintage and contemporary shots of Gean, are first-rate, and the tunes, recorded between 1962 and 1996, are weird and charming in equal measure. Overt novelties like "The Bobbit Song (Lorena, Lorena)" are somewhat disposable, but Gean favorites "Homicidal Me," "Granny's Grave" and "Hard to Be a Killer" are captured in all their glory, and oddball twists like "Planet of the Rain," which features the strangely haunting backup warbling of Dona M. Donohoo, are wonderfully uncategorizable. Gean is too bizarre to have ever been a star in the Fifties or Sixties, but this trait is precisely why he sounds so good in the Nineties (available in area record stores). Jason Sever is a local teenager whose first CD, There Ain't No Stoppin' Me, was produced by singer-songwriter Bob Tyler and features contributions from Celeste Krenz, John Macy, John Magnie and other musical heavyweights. All that talent certainly helps, and Sever's got a solid voice that's capable of surprising you: His octave climb toward the end of the title track is a real jolt. But the disc feels padded. For every sturdy track like the clever "My Baby's Like a Jukebox," there's filler--e.g., unnecessary covers of "Ode to Billie Jo," "That's All Right Mama," "Love Hurts" and "Johnny B. Goode." (Another familiar tune, "The Last Waltz," is better because it's not so played out.) Sever's certainly a promising lad, but it'll be a while before we know just how promising (Classic Records, Box 422, 9815 South Parker Road, Parker 80134).
"The Shining Motor City (on the Hill)," the first song on Trick Six, a fairly strong CD by the Emirs ("All Hail the Emirs," March 20), immediately establishes the quartet's style: punk taken back to its Sixties garage roots. The disc's recording quality is suspect; there are few highs and lows and too much mid-range. But that's hardly a fatal flaw in a genre that's supposed to be grimy. Guitarist/lead vocalist Fletcher Patrick Neeley croons the words to "Rock Must Die," "80's Recap" and the quickly paced "Ballad of Joseph Rodarte" like a particularly dreamy gas-station attendant, and his fellow Emirs (drummer Steven Shiramizu, bassist Christopher Kennedy and lead guitarist Aubry Lavizzo) give him plenty of enjoyable noise off which to bounce (The Emirs, 4021 South Magnolia Way, Denver 80237). Only a Test, a CD by another Westword profile subject, the Emergency Broadcast Players ("Passing the Test," July 17), is unlikely to turn up on a smooth-jazz station anytime soon; its 25 fragmentary tracks are too challenging for that. But for those of you with an interest in the sort of free jazz practiced by the likes of the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Test is definitely worth taking. Head man Geoff Cleveland has gathered a slew of the city's finest players, including Jennifer Matsuura, Artie Moore, Ron Miles and Kaveh Rastegar, and set them loose in a musical landscape where anything can happen--and on "We Have a Lizard," "Hip-Hoping," "Humphrey's Bug Garden" and others, it does. This isn't easy listening, which is precisely why it's good (Geoff Cleveland/EBP, P.O. Box 7376, Denver 80207).
Danny Masters's Electric Babylon, released by the Fort Collins-based Hapi Skratch Records, is a guitar-god epic designed with you G-3 types in mind. Vocal tracks such as "The Creeping From the East" are as fresh as the early Eighties, with throat-ripping vocals, roiling riffs and lyrics exemplified by the "Scarlet Heart" lines "Look outside the stain glass window/The sun can dry your eyes." These are juxtaposed with loads o' instrumentals, most of which hail from the more-notes-the-better school of guitar gymnastics. If you're into this subgenre, you'll be impressed by Masters's technique and pleased by the professional production and top-drawer sound quality. As for me, I couldn't even warm up to this sort of wanking when it was new (Hapi Skratch, 2100 West Drake Road, Suite 280, Fort Collins 80526). Basement Demo, by Oz. 4 Oz., isn't a title that was chosen at random; these four songs sound as if they were recorded on a condenser microphone built into a children's tape player. As near as I can tell, vocalist Shannon has an okay voice, and guitarist Jim is an adequate string-scraper. Unfortunately, the rhythm section neither swings nor grooves, and cuts like "Opening" and "Hitchhiker" never transcend the exhausted college-rock category. But don't hold me to that (744-0974).