Broun Fellinis

On the surface, these recordings share nothing beyond a common label (Weed, an indie out of Berkeley, California). But a closer listen reveals at least one other similarity, not counting their quality: The performers who made the discs understand that instrumental music offers them a vast canvas on which to splash their colors. And splash they do.

On previous recordings such as 1995's Aphrokubist Improvisations Vol. 9, the Broun Fellinis mixed their musical broth from roughly equal measures of jazz and hip-hop. This time, however, the equilibrium shifts, with the former taking on a much more prominent role. The risk inherent in this change is obvious: Just because Q-Tip has great taste in jazz samples doesn't mean he can out-skronk John Coltrane. But in this performance piece originally recorded in 1997 (the Fellinis issued it themselves a year later, but Weed is now making it more widely available), the trio of David Boyce (aka Black Edgar Khenyatta), Kevin Carnes (Professor Boris Karnaz) and Kirk Peterson (The Redeemer) prove to be highly skilled improvisationalists for whom stretching out is second nature. "IFA" gives listeners an opportunity to appreciate Boyce's elastic tenor over seven adventurous minutes, while "Kemetic Science" subtly highlights the interaction between Boyce and a sensitive rhythm section whose players shine in their own showcases: Peterson's vigorous bass keeps the heart of "Honey for Oshun" thumping, with Carnes's drums doing likewise on the hyperkinetic "859 Scott." The rap tracks don't quite hit these heights: "Point of View" sports a passionately expressed lyric ("Brown skin causes fear in the hearts of those unable to accept the facts"), but "T.A.B.N.I.T.S." and "Sountrackers" rely too heavily on the name-checking of icons ranging from Muhammad Ali to Eric Dolphy. But that's a minor quibble. For the most part, Out Through the N Door is waaay out -- and that's very, very good.

On Transistor Radio, Dipstick auteur Greg Reeves also takes a detour from the mainstream, yet he uses far different ingredients -- namely, the loungey sounds of '50s soundtrack music and exotica. Fortunately, though, the approach he takes to this material is far more spirited than is the case with typical retro-kitsch. "Candy Apple" begins with an echoey space melody that explodes into heavily distorted brass blats; "Rosa" layers silly wah-wahs and acoustic guitar plucks over an off-kilter synthesized groove; "Cobra" slithers with garage-quality effects that eventually, and amusingly, swallow themselves; and "La Barra del Diablo" comes across like an unholy mating of sci-fi shock sounds and the Tijuana Brass. Some observers will dismiss the results as mere jokes, and there may be something to that. But as jokes go, they're impressively smart: They tickle the brain instead of putting it to sleep.


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