Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab
Vampyros Lesbos: Sexadelic Dance Party

If you haven't seen a film by director Jess Franco, you're not alone; he's so obscure that he doesn't rate a mention in either of the average cineast's two favorite reference books, Ephraim Katz's The Film Encyclopedia or Leslie Halliwell's Filmgoer's Companion. But among a certain crowd--say, those viewers who find Ed Wood's work too polished and middle-brow--he's a celluloid god. Spanish by birth, Franco helmed over 160 films, many of which combined surrealistic elements with a loopy take on pornography. The music on this disc was drawn from three pictures that writer Peter Blumenstock, in his liner notes, describes as among Franco's most likable features: Vampyros Lesbos, Sie Totete in Ekstase and Der Teufel Kam Aus Akasawa. Beyond some amusingly preposterous stills, the accompanying booklet provides precious little information about the flicks themselves, but the music is so evocative that it hardly matters. Cuts such as "Droge CX 9" and "The Lions and the Cucumber" feature jaunty faux-rock mixed to achieve maximum tinniness and ultra-cheesy horn charts that are to great jazz what Norm Crosby is to the thespian tradition. Later, "We Don't Care" achieves a charming cross-cultural collision via a Lalo Schifrin groove and a saucy sitar; "Necronomania" and "Kamasutra" drip with Sergio Mendez- cum-George Romero background vocals; and "The Message" employs a moody organ that's more humorous than suspenseful. However, Vampyros Lesbos can't be dismissed as mere camp. Like seedier versions of Martin Denny, Esquivel and their cocktail-slinging counterparts, "composers" Hubler and Schwab create aural paintings using colors that most performers prefer to ignore. The result is, in its own peculiar way, gorgeous.

--Michael Roberts

The Philosopher Kings
The Philosopher Kings

What could a bunch of mostly stone-white jazzbos from Ottowa, Ontario, possibly contribute to the lexicon of popular music in the Nineties? If this disc is any indication, the answer is "plenty." Throughout the collection, vocalist Gerald Eaton croons like a latter-day Joe Jackson with a decent voice. And the shimmering doo-wop coda that his bandmates lay down on "All Dressed Up for San Francisco" could leave you reaching for a clean pair of underwear. But the crown jewel in the Kings' coffer is lyricist Jon Levine, whose Beat-influenced narratives reveal him to be a storyteller of rare and poetic quality. Some might dismiss The Philosopher Kings as smooch music for liberal-arts majors, but hey, literature students need love, too.--John Jesitus

Don Pullen
Sacred Common Ground
(Blue Note)

When pianist Don Pullen died of cancer last year, citizens of the jazz world--and those interested in creative improvisational music in general--lost a powerful visionary. While most performers specialize in one or two musical dialects, Pullen was a sensitive master of everything he touched, be it mainstream fare or the sounds of the avant-garde. Sacred Common Ground, his last completed project, is an outstanding illustration of this attribute. Initially conceived as a dance score influenced equally by jazz and Native American music, the project is both poignant and triumphant. On paper, the approach of Pullen and his primary accompanists (saxophonist Carlos Ward, drummer J.T. Lewis and percussionist Mor Thiam, collectively dubbed the African Brazilian Connection) seems incompatible with that of the Chief Cliff Singers, a seven-member drum/vocal group based in Elmo, Montana, with whom they collaborate here. But thanks to the strength of the players, the experiment comes off beautifully. Six of the seven compositions on Ground were co-written by Pullen and Chief Cliff leader Mike Kenmille, but it's the exception--"The Eagle Staff Is First," penned by Pullen and Chief Cliff's Francis Auld--that provides the disc's most memorable moments. A dynamic celebration of Indian chants, percussive polyrhythms and vivid harmonies, the tune is highlighted by the bass playing of Santi Debriano and absorbing trombone work from guest artist Joseph Bowie. Their vibrance rubs off on Pullen, who gives himself totally to his novel creation rather than noodling over his mortality. The freshness of his playing is a testimony to his worth as an artist and to the quality of the recording as a whole--it's one of the most exhilarating jazz-based efforts to be released in a very long time.--Linda Gruno

Various Artists
Go Big
Barenaked Ladies
Born on a Pirate Ship
Various Artists
Flipper: Music From the Motion Picture
(Track Factory)

The concept of enhanced CDs--discs that are both normal audio CDs and CD-ROMs suitable for computer use--is still so novel (at least to yours truly) that it's easy to get distracted by the marvelous technology that makes them possible. The three packages noted above are a case in point. Go Big, put out on the tiny Om imprint, headquartered in San Francisco, showcases its hoops and buzzers quite well. The music, by grimy, quasi-underground acts Sublime, M.I.R.V., Porch and others, should have skate punks greasing their wheels. Likewise, the computer visuals, replete with scenes of skateboarding and snowboarding, are first-rate, as are the articles from magazines such as Thrasher, which are included in their entirety. Just as important, there were no computer glitches or confounding electronic snafus that I could find--and believe me, I looked. Born on a Pirate Ship is also loaded with problem-free extras: videos of new songs and old; generous snippets and samples from every Barenaked Ladies album; a stockpile of biographical text; witty graphics; and goofy films seemingly made especially for the project. In fact, the only drawback to this impressive production is the band itself, which is pleasant and unobjectionable but not nearly as good as one might wish. (The combo generally operates in the zone between They Might Be Giants and "Weird" Al Yankovic; linger there at your own risk.) And Flipper? Well, my copy of this soundtrack to yet another remake of a dopey Sixties television show proves that enhanced CDs are not yet foolproof. My Macintosh, which performed flawlessly when fed the first pair of discs, could do nothing with this dolphin-friendly collector's item; it wouldn't even play the sound on the damn thing, let alone display the width and depth of its watery content. The recording, which shoves typical movie music up against okay stuff from Shaggy, the Beach Boys, Tom Jones, Professor Longhair and Matthew Sweet, operated effectively in my regular CD player, but if there are other treasures encoded in it (a boy-gropes-fish love sequence backed by the tune "Sandy Meets Flipper," perhaps), you couldn't prove it by me. Anyone for tuna?--Roberts


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