Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix
If 60's Were 90's
We, the members of the record-buying public, have been deluged with more than enough tribute albums lately--enough, at least, to know that they don't work very well when the albums' performers think their job is to ape the (usually) cadaverous star being saluted. And aping is what we get during at least half of Stone Free. Body Count, the Spin Doctors, Seal and Jeff Beck, Slash and Paul Rodgers with the Band of Gypsys, Living Colour and the members of Pearl Jam and Soundgarden who dub themselves M.A.C.C. are so busy doing Hendrix guitar impersonations that they fail to find the essence and passion in the songs themselves. Buddy Guy's scorching "Red House" does (appropriate, given how much Hendrix learned from Guy), and the Cure ("Purple Haze"), the Pretenders ("Bold as Love") and Belly ("Are You Experienced?") deserve credit for interpreting the material rather than cloning it. Which should have been the point in the first place, since most members of the record-buying public already have Hendrix albums that sound like Hendrix.
Hearing Hendrix on If 60's Were 90's, however, makes Stone Free sound like Electric Ladyland by comparison. Put together by Beautiful People, a sextet from England, this hideous dance record tries to appropriate Hendrix in much the same way that those Coca-Cola commercials from a few years back used video technology to force dead actors to share screen time with Paula Abdul. Over fifty Hendrix samples are used here, in an apparent attempt to make Jimi seem like a literal member of the group. Given the vapid quality of this waste of plastic, he's probably spinning in his grave at the very thought.--Michael Roberts
Walkin' the Basses
While the name of this unsung jazz hero may not ring a bell with many contemporary listeners, his credits are diverse: He was the bassist on both Andre Previn's 1956 album My Fair Lady, which infused the songs from the popular Broadway musical with spirited swing, and several selections on the Doors' 1968 release Waiting for the Sun. For this album, his first as a leader in over sixteen years, Vinnegar has recruited drummer Mel Brown, percussionist Curtis Craft and former Denverite Geoff Lee, and set them loose on a celebration of his sound. A highlight is Vinnegar's own "Who Has Seen the Wind?" featuring dynamic piano and percussion work as well as the walking style of acoustic-bass playing that Vinnegar mastered long ago. But he's no antiquated relic: This music, marked by a strong rhythmic sensibility and melodic solos, sounds fresh, creative and full of joy.--Linda Gruno
Hips and Makers
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Whenever Throwing Muses, the band Hersh leads, threatens to overdose on preciousness, the energy of the musicians generally prevents it from slipping into a pool of folkie narcissism. With the mostly acoustic, mostly solo Hips and Makers, however, Hersh takes the plunge. Pro-
ducer and former Patti Smith associate Lenny Kaye creates a spartan palette that puts the focus squarely on Hersh's singing--the most conventional of her career--and lyrics that too frequently champion seriousness of purpose over subtlety. As you might expect from someone as talented as this songwriter, there are a few good lines here, and Jane Scarpantoni's cello effortlessly creates the austere mood that Hersh often fails to establish with her own playing. But only on "Sundrops" and "Houdini Blues," during which Hersh sacrifices prettiness for grit, does this album become more than adult-contemporary wallpaper.--Roberts
A former Stan Getz sideman and founder of the Monk-inspired quartet Sphere, Barron is best known for his South American-style piano dialect, heard to good effect on Frank Morgan's album You Must Believe in Spring, the soundtracks to the Spike Lee joints School Daze and Do the Right Thing, and his own Sambao, which draws upon the bossa nova beat. By contrast, Other Places, featuring a name-brand crew of accompanists (percussionist Minu Cinelu, drummer Victor Lewis, bassist Rufus Reid, vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and saxophonist Ralph Moore) displays few ethnic influences. Instead the album collects genteel, stylized jazz played with slick sophistication. It's an impressive effort, yet some may find it hard to handle this large a dose of cool at one sitting.--Gruno