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Tony Brooke Record Reviews 2003: Ing, Kriya, Babatunde Lea, Phenomenauts, Realistic, Virgil Shaw, 20 Minute Loop, Attaboy and Burke
by Tony Brooke
(Originally published 3/5/03 in SF Weekly's music supplement "Listen Up! 2003".)
There's a big difference between a great, catchy melody and trend-hopping pop fluff. Ing manages to create choruses that sound new and catchy without buying into the latest trend-of-the-minute or falling back on tired classic rock. Remember songwriting? Youngsters in the audience might not know this, but songwriters are people who actually write songs, and then sing them, too! With their upcoming release, Ing continues onward in the Bay Area's always-almost-breaking-out power pop scene. Our scene's integrity keeps it from producing The Next Big Thing because many bands would rather have it on their own terms (and our indie scene is occasionally afraid of solid pop). Ing just might be that act that makes it out.
Kriya (Michael Smolens Jazz Sextet)
Studio & Concert Excerpts
The live energy of jazz is notoriously difficult to capture in the studio. A full-length Kriya debut is planned for later this year, but until then we have this sampler of live and studio work (not for sale, free on the Web site). Not many groups compose and arrange their own charts, so Smolens' pieces are notable for their originality. The arrangements are spacious and beautiful, with solid harmonic layering and room for live improvisation. But the relatively risk-free execution of the studio cuts yearns for the live stage, which is the meat of jazz. There's an excellent foundation here, and we recommend keeping an eye out for live performances by Kriya or one of Smolens' other lineups.
Babatunde Lea is a fiery example of everything that's not dead in jazz or the Bay Area music scene. Lea drives his stellar group from the drum kit or congas with ferocity and grace, picking up where the post-bop greats of the '60s and '70s left off. Polyrhythmic sweaty workouts kick out the jams, and sincere ballads avoid treacle or sap. Live onstage, the group blows hats off the heads of "dinner jazz" fans, as evidenced by Wayne Shorter's "Footprints" on the limited-edition bonus freebie CD Live at Rasselas. If you lost interest in jazz because no current artists sparked your passion, or if jazz just never seemed energetic enough for you, check out Soul Pools or see him live for the real deal.
Rockets And Robots
If your ass gets kicked in space, can anyone hear you scream? The question is moot, because The Phenomenauts will scream while kicking your ass -- so either way, your ass will be kicked and there will be screaming. These surfabilly space cowboys put on a ridiculously bent live show, but this album stands on its own without all the pyrotechnics and mayhem that they bring to the stage. Snappy drums and standup bass power their warpcore, while two ripping guitars navigate the getaway module. Picture your small-block Chevy souped up with nuclear fission injectors. Strap in and prepare for a bumpy ride, because if you're not energized by this, you must be dead.
Don't be thrown by the description on the back of this album, "File under: live drum 'n' bass/jazz/dub." Genres plant preconceived notions in your head, which sabotage the listening experience. This is no mere live rendition of that tired, over-quantized 4/4 beat that your solar plexus got bored of in the last century. Mixing it up with snaky three-against-four patterns, breaks, samples, and skronky On The Corner grooves, Realistic introduces the driving force of the club beat to a rare dance partner: instrumental chops. By building on the promise that Acid Jazz has been struggling to honor for ten years or so, Living Loops brings new life to the broken marriage of improvisation and technology.
The human ear is custom-built to hear the human voice, and it instinctively knows the difference between the warble of heartfelt soul and bad singing. But many listeners have never had the chance to appreciate some great songwriters (Dylan, Waits, Cohen, Young, Parsons, Allison) because they let the cultural taste-dictators dismiss the straightforward power of passion for the fool's gold of virtuosity. Still Falling (Shaw's second solo release after Dieselhed) proves that an honest voice lends an intimacy to roots music that the emotionless "singers" of American Idol couldn't touch with a ten-foot pole. Shaw might become widely known as a seminal songwriter, and there would inevitably be an all-star tribute album. But it's doubtful that future covers could match Virgil's raw truth.
These two got cut for space:
20 Minute Loop
Decline Of Day
This album is like eavesdropping on the flip side of pain– the poignant aspect of hurt that is inspiring as long as it is happening to someone else. The lyrics are cryptic and occasionally morbid, yet curiously pretty... even poetic. Similarly bipolar, the music is a tense balance of catchy rocking sections, avant-dark moods and edgy arrangements, with tight instrumental performances and raw, emotional vocals. Kelly Atkins' intense voice has a tribal flavor that complements Greg Giles' mania like the push/pull of a heated debate, giving the vocal arrangements a uniquely arresting power. Intriguingly dark but hopeful, Decline Of Day describes grey scenes by contrasting the lone colorful element in the frame ("Jubilation"), or by stringing together the thoughts addressed to the recently departed ("Aquarium"), somewhere between monologue and prayer.
Attaboy and Burke
Atomic Batteries Of Power [EP]
You know that toy robot that your Mom "absolutely" refused to get for your ninth birthday so you bugged the sh*t out of her for 364 days pummeling her with the educational merits of its laserbeam eyes and the kitchen labor-savings of the trashcompactor mouth until she finally broke down in the Toys•R•Us parking lot and while cursing your long-gone deadbeat dad she forked over $69.95 for the vastly overpriced monstrosity which shut you up for 19 minutes until the battery compartment cover got stuck in your mouth which you thought was hilarious because the throat obstruction made cool Darth Vader noises but Mom didn't agree so she chased you all over the mall until you finally threw it up in the "Used" section of the Sam Goody music store?
Tony Brooke is a wiseass music technology know-it-all who has serious issues with thinking inside the box. For the scoop on his recording equipment rental and live recording services, check out www.silentway.com. For the best of streaming radio, tune in to www.tastycast.com.