Deep in the Heart of Tuva: Cowboy Music From the Wild East
Tibet: The Heart of Dharma
"World music" is one of the most chauvinistic terms imaginable, if for no other reason than its implication that anything that doesn't come from here can and should be lumped together as part of a vast, undefined other. This presumption is, of course, ludicrous on its face, and yet the most obvious alternative to using the phrase (actually learning something substantial about every style of music in every country, region, state or community on the globe) is so daunting that it's hard not to think, well, "world music" isn't such a bad descriptor after all. Fortunately, the two discs on the Ellipsis Arts label allow a novice the opportunity to make the right choice--by providing the very information that will aid a listener in exploring the planet using nothing more than a CD player. Tuva introduces you to the sounds made by shepherds who live in the territory where Siberia bleeds into Outer Mongolia, and at first these airs can feel pretty disorienting: What initially seems like a didgeridoo on most tracks is subsequently revealed to be the product of "throat singers" like Kongar-ool Ondar, who's capable of hitting several notes simultaneously. The result won't strike many Westerners as toe-tapping, but it is fascinating; you can imagine samplers positively bubbling with delight at the prospect of feeding snippets of this stuff into their high-tech machines. Moreover, the liner notes are extraordinarily informative: The authors provide a basic introduction to Tuvan culture, religion, hobbies and cuisine (boy, that blood sausage sounds yummy) and even includes a brief throat-singing primer. (Don't try this without a net, kids.) The booklet that accompanies Tibet is just as extensive, thereby providing a backdrop against which the bottomless chants and drones offered up by residents of the Drepung and Khampagar monasteries can be understood and appreciated. Of course, both of these recordings require active listening, and the sonic rewards they offer can sometimes feel a bit too much like work--something that's certainly not the case with Chibite, a warm and wonderful presentation by Zawose, a Tanzanian who sings and plays thumb piano, African violin and flute and ankle bells called nguga. The accessibility of tracks such as the eight-minute-plus opener, "Sisitizo La Amani Duniani," probably has more to do with the influence of African music on American pop than anything else; anyone familiar with, say, James Brown, will find his body reacting to the persuasive, push-and-pull rhythms over which Zawose shouts, cries and celebrates. It's great to learn, but Chibite serves as a reminder that there are also times when it's reassuring to discover that you knew what was happening all along.
I take from this CD that Da Brat is the bitch in charge, she likes to smoke pot, and she's the bitch in charge. In that order.
The Arista Years
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Dozin' at the Knick
My sense is that real Deadheads have no interest in these projects; after all, most of them already have a gazillion recordings of the Dead--so why bother putting more money into Arista boss Clive Davis's pockets in order to get two more? But label execs don't realize this. They see the death of Jerry Garcia as a marketing opportunity--and since marketing is their game, they figure that anything with "Dead" on the cover will fly off the shelves of Sam Goody stores nationwide as long as they put it there in the first place. Those suckers interested in proving them right will discover, though, that these efforts aren't all that stellar. Even Blair Jackson, a Dead sympathizer who's credited with scribbling the notes for The Arista Years, concedes that a lot of the albums the combo made between 1977 and 1990 are a tad flaccid. Putting the best spin on things, he writes, "When 'bootleg' concert tapes started being traded more heavily, the Dead's records perhaps lost some of their relevance to many fans, but the albums remained an interesting medium in which the band could express themselves." Not really: Beyond the title track from 1977's Terrapin Station, there's not much stretching on Years--unless you count the nearly-seventeen-minute "Eyes of the World," an opus from 1990's live Without a Net release that works at times because Branford Marsalis is featured on it. But if you have a burning desire to repurchase half of 1987's In the Dark, far be it from me to stand in your way. As for Dozin', the title comes complete with its own built-in insult--one that strikes me as far too easy to use in this instance. But suffice it to say that these three discs include four--count 'em--cuts by the late, talent-challenged keyboardist Brent Mydland (a worse singer even than Bob Weir, if that's possible) and an ultra-predictable collection of covers ("When I Paint My Masterpiece," "All Along the Watchtower," "Not Fade Away"). When the combo goes off into jazzbo land, as it does during the noodle dubbed "Space" that concludes the second disc, it becomes somewhat intriguing. But does that justify yet another live Dead album? Will it justify the next one? And the next? And the next? What about it, Clive?