Ivo Perelman +
"Cama de Terra"
The phrase "forward into the past" is such an obvious (and amusing) contradiction that the comedy troupe Firesign Theatre used it as the title of a Seventies-era compilation album. Yet the notion, jokey though it may seem, is not wholly lacking in merit, as these two very different albums demonstrate. Saxophonist Perelman, a Brazilian by birth, doesn't do anything on "Cama de Terra" that's radically different from the post-Ornette explorations of Pharoah Sanders or Archie Shepp: He bounces wildly off the loose constructs laid at his feet by pianist Matthew Shipp and bassist William Parker, dabbling with equal skill in harmony and atonality. Still, surreal, unmoored tracks like "Nho Quim" and "Groundswell Descent" excite in a way that's subtly different from the work of those who've already been down this road. The absence of a drummer from the lineup might have something to do with it; Shipp and Parker excel in part because they understand that even when they're soloing, they still have rhythmic responsibilities. But more likely, the disc sounds fresh for the same reasons that free jazz originally did--because it was an act of anarchy committed against a commercial system grown stale and complacent. In its ugliness can be found beauty, and vice versa. Reed man Ralph Carney, guitarist Joe Gore and the other New York scenesters in Oranj Symphonette understand this concept, too, but they take a more accessible tack to plumbing it--by tinkering with the music of a composer who, despite his popularity, has seldom been taken seriously by the critical cognoscenti. Of course, they don't take Mancini's oeuvre all that seriously, either--which is a large part of the fun. The Symphonette renders familiar melodies such as the one at the center of "The Pink Panther Theme" in a playful manner, then decorates them with sonic filigree that ranges from exotica (Diarmid contributes zither and bird calls) to full-scale skronk (the conclusions of "The Inspector Clouseau Theme" and "Mr. Yunioshi" are thrillingly cacophonous). These alternations shouldn't be read as contempt, however. The players, whose resumes include stints with both Tom Waits and PJ Harvey, may turn the second half of "Moon River" into a quirky bossa nova, but the ditty's introductory passage is so somber, it's practically funereal. The sharp contrast between these segments underlines a universal truth about music: In many cases, the notes don't matter nearly as much as how they are played. So thanks, guys, for playing them well.
Just Add Ice
Knoxville, Tennessee's own V-roys illustrate what might happen if a scrappy rock combo such as the British Invasion-era Kinks were forcefed a steady diet of hush puppies and Hee-Haw reruns. "No Regrets," for example, sports all the ingredients necessary to make perfect twang pop--namely, a little smokin', a little drinkin' and no small amount of spite directed toward an ex-lover who probably will not be forgotten as quickly as the song's lyrics insist. The stirring "Lie I Believe," on the other hand, proves that this unexpectedly dapper group is as adept at tugging heartstrings as they are at bending guitar strings. Not that the collection, produced by Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy, qualifies as a weeper: The music exudes a self-deprecatory breeziness that should keep most listeners' hankies in their pockets and their feet on the dance floor. The band's vocalists occasionally sound a little more like ex-Eagle Glenn Frey than is strictly advisable, particularly on up-tempo ravers such as "Cry," and their proclivity for unexpected mid-song narrative shifts may unsettle the kind of people who watch the Nashville Network. Then again, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that one gal plus two guys generally add up to the type of trouble that the V-roys can't resist. You'll likely find this recording pretty irresistible, too.
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About to Choke
It takes a while to dig Vic Chesnutt. There are nagging delays, like the one inevitably caused by the attempt to figure out just who or what that warbling voice coming through the speaker sounds like. (Cat Stevens? Folk singer Bill Morrissey? Saturday Night Live's Opera Man?) Then there are the melodic tricks the singer plays on standout tunes such as "New Town," "Degenerate" and "Threads," as well as the stylistic mishmash of his musical accompaniment--a train wreck of acoustic pluckings, slop rock and Yamaha Portasound burps that might make quicker sense if there were even a hint of hip-hop underscoring, which there isn't. (Okay, maybe just the tiniest shred on the abortively brief "[It's No Secret] Satisfaction.") Chesnutt's lyrics are no less confounding. One minute he's "in the hot seat, sweating it out"; another he's "a rough ball of twine"; later, he's promising to be "the parliamentarian with an unswerving dedication"; and before it's all over, he's "sorry for my lack of communication." The company he keeps is just as eccentric: He's joined on this twelve-track soundscape by the "loneliest old ladies," the "funny pilgrim on a crazy crusade" and the "boys in the backroom" who may or may not hold the secret to the whereabouts of "Anonymous Adonis." You might have to know Chesnutt personally to gauge just precisely what he's up to here--a fact that may qualify him for membership in the New Sincerity school of post-genre songwriters. But you don't need to live on his block to register the impressions he leaves. When straight explication fails, fall back on gut reaction and ask, Does the music ring true or does it not? Chesnutt's does, leaving him sounding like at least a minor visionary emerging slowly--after a string of cultish indie releases--from the basement. And Christ knows there are too few visionaries left knocking around, minor or otherwise. So suffice it to say that I've gotten used to About to Choke. Only took me three or four spins--and now I've got a disc I can hardly get out of the player long enough to make a living.