Freedom in the Groove
Somehow it doesn't seem fair that previous generations of jazz buffs got an opportunity to experience the inventions of Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Ornette Coleman when these artists were in their primes, while today's jazz lovers are left with performers such as Redman. Not that this still-young player is unskilled: He's as impressive a manipulator of reed instruments as anyone with a recording contract. But he seems to have absolutely no interest in pushing the music into new and exciting areas. Why bother, when consumers seem most interested in supporting musicians with both feet planted firmly in the past? And so Redman gives us "Hide and Seek," a willfully accessible track (attention, radio programmers) that sounds like something Grover Washington Jr. might have cut around the time of Mister Magic; "One Shining Soul," which waters down Cannonball Adderly circa Mercy, Mercy, Mercy!; and eight more compositions inaccurately described on the liner notes as "original." There's no question that the man can blow: On "Invocation," he guides listeners through a shifting, complex ten minutes of music with skill and confidence. But even though this track gives Redman and his band (guitarist Peter Bernstein, pianist Peter Martin, bassist Christopher Thomas and drummer Brian Blade) some elbow room, they use the space primarily to ape John Coltrane--not a big surprise coming from a guy who subtitled a recent recording Live at the Village Vanguard. Just as predictable is "Pantomime," whose last section finds Redman zipping up and down the scales in a showboating manner that will no doubt dazzle the folks in the front row but is otherwise devoid of much meaning. What makes the championing of empty technique over self-expression even more frustrating is the knowledge that Redman is fully capable of using his talents to boost today's jazz as did the famous names sprinkled throughout this review. But instead, he and far too many of his contemporaries are satisfied with mimicking the glory days. Given this attitude, it's little wonder that so many young people who might be into jazz see it as moribund and not worth their time. If Redman believes that nothing interesting has happened in the world of jazz in decades (and the mistitled Freedom in the Groove argues that he does), then all he's offering us is impressions. And Rich Little's are funnier.
Hi, My Name Is Jonny
Jonny's album took a few plays to convince me, but convinced I am; its references to HYsker DY, Guns N' Roses, Neil Young and the like are played so powerfully that you can easily forget that a single guy is behind the solid drums, bare-knuckle guitars and every other sound on display here. The joy Polonsky takes in doing it all without having to teach the tunes to other musicians brings him closer to perfectionist workaholic Moby than to earlier one-man bands like Todd Rundgren and John Fogerty. As for the words, well, Polonsky blathers from "Love Lovely Love" to "Evil Scurry Love" in the manner of Young and Rundgren. However, he's more candid than his forefathers about the need for escape: In "It's Good to Sleep," he admits, "No other avoidance technique has ever worked so well for me."
We Are Yatsura
There's probably some clause in the rock critic's handbook that says I shouldn't pay attention to these guys. After all, they pinch a large part of their sound from Pavement, and they profess to be lo-fi rockers--qualities considered to be oh, so ten minutes ago. But damned if I don't love these randy Scots anyway. Why? Because they know how to have fun. Their cartoonish odes to aliens ("First Day on a New Planet"), Trekkies ("Phasers on Stun/Sola Kola") and, um, plastic ashtrays ("Plastic Ashtray") seem inspired by Nick at Night marathons, and they perform them with a giggly, spontaneous zeal that's straight from the playground. Even the band's sullen "Black Hole Love" sounds more like a kooky parody than a forlorn ballad, thanks to loopy guitar skirmishes and lunkhead lyrics ("Some things are shown/They can't be told/The dress you stole/Is much too small"). True, the band's style isn't exactly original--these days, whose is? But the kids in Yatsura aren't out to change the history of music. They're just looking for some kicks. And judging from We Are Yatsura, they've found them.
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Next time you angrily punch the channel buttons on your car radio at the sound of some drippy piece of crap that's monopolizing the airwaves, think of Tiffany Darwisch. It wasn't long ago that "I Think We're Alone Now," the first cut here (as if there were any other candidates for that dubious honor) was just such a smash--a tribute to sugar shock whose success had music lovers of all ages wondering what horrendous sin they'd committed to deserve the punishment of hearing it over and over again. She earned three more Top 10 hits ("Could've Been," "All This Time" and a gutted version of the Beatles' "I Saw Him Standing There") before she'd celebrated her eighteenth birthday, but then something wonderful happened: She went away. Her puerile music stopped getting airplay, the puerile story of her rapid rise up the industry charts stopped being told, and her puerile face stopped appearing on Entertainment Tonight (except for "Where are they now?" segments). And now, six years after the recording of the most recent of these sonic catastrophes (the almost unimaginably awful "Here in My Heart"), the thought of a Tiffany album called Greatest Hits is apt to produce guffaws, not shrieks of terror. It's enough to make you believe in God--a vengeful, nasty, Old Testament kind of God who let Tiffany become a star only because He knew He would cruelly slap her down when she least expected it and turn the rest of her life into a living hell. Let us pray.