ENCORE, Self Preservation (75 Ark) Bay Area MC Shaya Bekele, a.k.a. Encore, registers his publishing under the name Soul Invictus, which former Latin students will

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Encore, her space holiday, and more.

ENCORE, Self Preservation (75 Ark) Bay Area MC Shaya Bekele, a.k.a. Encore, registers his publishing under the name Soul Invictus, which former Latin students will recognize as "Invincible Soul." It's an assertion of inner strength, but it could also be a statement of musical taste: Encore's style is straight-up hip-hop, with its soul roots just underneath the surface. He served notice to a wide audience last year, guesting on the Prince Paul/Automator project Handsome Boy Modeling School. On the track "Waterworld," Encore flowed clever liquid imagery over a subtle Rakim sample, a testimony of affinity for hip-hop's smooth ruler that Encore expands on his debut solo album. He's no mimic, though; he brings his own knowledge and style to the Rakim school of conversational precision. Without breaking a sweat, he articulates religious metaphors, history lessons, and moral boundaries, leavened with clever cultural allusions (Richard Pryor flicks, Yahoo stock, Black Crowes hits). Self Preservation demands repeated spins to parse its many intricacies, including the compelling beats of DJ/producer the Architect, who creates a spare musical frame for his longtime partner's words. Listen closely to the single "Sporadic" and the nuances of his elegantly simple constructions reveal themselves. The epic "Love & Hate (The Mellow Drama)" spins out of an elegiac piano line, then the mood flips 180 degrees to the snaky bounce of "Considadis." On half the tracks, Encore trades verses with guests ranging from his former partner in the Vinyl Miners, Grand ("Considadis"), to Pep Love from the Hieroglyphics ("The Situation"). Another visitor, the Bishop, raps on the title track, "There's more to hip-hop, folks, than thugs and shooting." With Self Preservation, Encore expands the picture to keep the soul intact.—Jackie McCarthy

MATTHEW SHIPP QUARTET, Pastoral Composure (Thirsty Ear) Although music writers invariably impose expectations on their favorite artists, progress really resides in the ear of the beholder. Longtime fans of Matthew Shipp are in for a surprise: Pastoral Composure offers an accessible introduction to one of today's most exploratory and intriguing jazz musicians. Shipp, a pianist and bandleader hailed for his propulsive, virile playing, takes a straight-ahead approach shorn of the angular aggression found in his earlier work. Lumbering along with tasty if ponderous themes, "Gesture" and the title track are Sturm und Drang hard bop. "Visions" and "Progression" cook too, and could have been released by Blue Note in 1966. Recalling Miles Davis Quintet's famed rendition of "If I Were a Bell," the quintet fires off the nursery song "Fr貥 Jacques," eventually plunging the theme into rugged cacophony and ending with a wry solo by avant-bassist William Parker. Shipp goes it alone on a delectable piano rendition of Ellington's "Prelude to Kiss"; the twinkling coda is a delight. Shipp fans will devour the other solo track, "XTU" (imagine Errol Garner funkifying Anton Webern), and wonder, if not worry, what Shipp will do next. Fans of Shipp's breakthrough record DNA and earlier work such as 1992's probing Circular Temple may be disappointed, but Pastoral Composure is a fine tonic to Wynton Marsalis' moldy brand of jazz.—Christopher DeLaurenti

HER SPACE HOLIDAY, Home Is Where You Hang Yourself (Tiger Style) Listening to the fourth full-length from Mark Bianchi—the one-man-band who goes by her space holiday—is like discovering a perfect little shop tucked off the main streets, full of wonderfully faded treasures and subtly shiny baubles. And then, amazingly, you discover that this shop is having a two-for-one sale. The double-CD Home Is Where You Hang Yourself is as much for you bedroom-pop types as it is for your drum-and-bass neighbors—perfect when played before or after Beth Orton, Belle & Sebastian, American Analog Set, or Massive Attack. The discs break down into a set of original songs and a set of remixed tracks from bands like Duster, Micromars, and Bright Eyes. Bianchi's reworking of Aspera Ad Astra's "Godspeed" will have you seeking your own divinity: Spiritual, soulful, and loopy, the song is what Sunday mornings in a cathedral could be if there wasn't so much noise and clutter. Of the originals, "The Doctor and the DJ" is my favorite, lines of plucked guitar notes humming over lush keyboards and a drum loop. A "Sweet Jane" for this decade, the song tells a love story in two languages: folk and electronic. Another standout, "Sleeping Pills," sends fuzzy record needle noise, more loopy drums, and simple, resonating guitar chords over the lines, "Hallelujah for sleeping pills/Amen for a good stiff drink." But by the end of the song, in true two-for-one style, Bianchi is using his smooth and gorgeous voice to sing, "Hallelujah for long shot dreams/Amen for a perfect life."—Laura Learmonth

NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS, Shake Hands With Shorty (Tone-Cool) A workmanly combination of rough Delta chops, ratty invention, and hipster pedigree (two of the Allstars are sons of famed producer Jim Dickinson), the North Mississippi Allstars' debut disc is a welcome relief for even the most casual blues fan. With blues-based Americana at a low ebb and the mainstream blues scene overflowing with lily-faced teenage Quick Draw McGraws ("prodigy" players whose fingers run at Pentium III speed across the fretboard like a guitar teacher's wet dream), those who prefer the stronger stuff have had to wait for new records by players well into their 60s and 70s. Enter North Mississippi Allstars, three twentysomethings who set their sights on slide-heavy rollickin' blues, piling fife and drum (the most African of all American vernacular music) purity, Beale Street minstrelsy, jam-band exploration, and punk rock glee on top of blissfully simple, classic songs. There are no originals on "Shorty," but the boys sure know which well to draw their (muddy) water from. No less than four tunes are from Fred McDowell (the king of the knife-edged Delta slide) and three are from R.L. Burnside (among the greatest rough and raw Delta musicians). This band does rock (and shimmy, and wobble, and all that), in such a way that fans from every side of the blues-rock continuum—Cream, John Lee Hooker, Jon Spencer, Ben Harper—will be able to lock arms and dance, united as one under the bright glow of this self-described "world boogie."—Mike McGonigal

 
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