CD Reviews

COL. BRUCE HAMPTON, One Ruined Life of a Bronze Tourist and Arkansas (Terminus) Despite a wildly iconoclastic recording career that has spanned more than 25 years, Col. Bruce Hampton is probably best recognized for two footnote blips: a small part in his pal Billy Bob Thornton's Sling Blade and as frontman for Georgia's Hampton Grease Band, which holds the dubious distinction of having the poorest selling album in the Columbia Records catalog (1969's Music to Eat). Hampton's abrasive blending of gut-bucket blues, Sun Ra freak-out jazz, and Beefheart- inspired hullabaloo has earned him a position of permanent exile on the extreme outer fringes of 20th century rock 'n' roll. Two recent reissues of Hampton's music will no doubt add to debate over his unruly musical legacy. One Ruined Life of a Bronze Tourist (originally recorded in 1978) is a crazy load of head-scratching abstraction that includes nonsensical geographic sermonizing, comical jazzbo blowouts, and hallelujah boogie bits such as "Sunshine Makes Eye Contact." Hard, weird workouts like "Ghost Alcohol Sandwich" will no doubt induce some to reach for their Zappa dictionary of lunatic instrumental blurts. The footing here is treacherous indeed. Curious folks might have better luck with Arkansas (originally recorded in 1987), which is at least somewhat more rooted in actual tuneage. Songs like the title track and the lovely blues weeper "Throndossul" feature Hampton's searing vocal attack (sort of a Ray Charles meets Bob Seeger moan and wail) and partially raise the man's perceived status from uncompromising nutso to enigmatic eclectic stylist. Take your pick and enter at your own risk.—John Chandler

TIM EASTON, The Truth About Us (New West) A few years back, I gave my Willie and Waylon-loving dad a copy of Wilco's Being There. I thought it was right up his alley. But "oh, honey, I'm just too old for that stuff" was his only reaction. To my ears, sandpapered as they were at the time by Sonic Youth and the like, Being There was perfectly accessible. But I guess that's what they mean when they talk about the generation gap. Although I was pretty discouraged by that experience, I think I'll try to slip a copy of Tim Easton's second solo disc into the old man's stereo. I probably won't mention that three members of Wilco (everyone but Tweedy, really) back this LA-by-way-of-Ohio boy, lest dad should recognize the name and get scared off. But I will tell him to tune in to the gorgeous guitar strumming, the quiet harmonies, the brief affairs with pedal steel, and the easy Americana tales of uprooted hope and urban discontent. And I'll just hope that the occasional beat-box loops, Mellotron samples, and guitar fuzz will slip by him. He doesn't know Matthew Sweet, so it will do no good to assert that Easton might well be his alt-country doppelg䮧er (or that Easton's "Happy Now" is to Sweet's "Sick of Myself" what my cubicle is to a veal-fattening pen). Easton's song-stories (and the two he borrows from Burnbarrel bandmate J.P. Olsen), like those by Ryan Adams, Wilco, and the Old 97's, go further than the old-school country rock formula that my dad swallows so easily. But I'm willing to take another risk.—Laura Learmonth

MATTHEW SHIPP QUARTET, Matthew Shipp's New Orbit (Thirsty Ear) In jazz, adventurous bandleaders must meet the challenge of prodding their players into new territory while maintaining group cohesion. On this disc, Shipp's muscular piano playing and soloist-friendly compositions pull his all-star cohorts into orbit with him. The album's standout is trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith, who eschews histrionic trips into the stratosphere for the trumpet's stately and sometimes-melancholy middle register. Listeners will be immediately ensnared by Smith's introduction to "Chi," which pays homage to the brooding echo-tinged trumpet of 1950s Lift to the Scaffold-era Miles Davis, but his knotty duet with bassist William Parker in "Paradox Y" is equally mesmerizing. Faced with Parker's sawing double stops and frayed harmonics, Smith follows along with muted trumpet honking, bleating, and, it seems, doing all in his power to sway Parker from an obstinate doom-laden path. Shipp is in fine form throughout and begins "Paradox X" by plucking the piano's upper strings. When bereft of ideas, some free-improvising pianists retreat to the meek pianissimo refuge of the piano's interior, but Shipp knows where he's going and boldly plucks away at full blast. Drummer Gerald Cleaver responds with bewitching borborygmus from a muffled floor tom and transforms the leader's pluck(ing) into a disorienting stygian undertow. Matthew Shipp's New Orbit also has quieter moments, particularly in Shipp's solos in "New Orbit" and "Orbit 2," but unlike his previous disc, the tellingly titled Pastoral Composure, this disc cooks.—Christopher DeLaurenti

CHRISTINA ROSENVINGE, Frozen Pool (Smells Like) It's a bit of a stretch to call Christina Rosenvinge a chanteuse. This former Latin pop diva, best known to the English-speaking indie world for her vocal contributions to Two Dollar Guitar's Weak Beats and Lame-Ass Rhymes, is not blessed with stellar vocal abilities. She doesn't have outrageous range or crystal tone. In fact, she doesn't really sing so much as exhale. On Frozen Pool, her solo US debut, even solid accompaniments from Two Dollar Guitar and Lee Ranaldo aren't enough to keep her breathy melodies anchored to the ground. Instead, she drifts back and forth, hovering between a sleepy-eyed adult sensuality and a playful, childish boredom. On "Hunter's Lullaby," the record's standout opener, subdued, sexy lyrics wander over twinkling music-box guitars; a charmingly off-key reprise of Weak Beats' "White Ape" floats by almost unnoticeably; and "Glue" is an ethereal mix of rambling nursery rhyme and siren song. The overriding flaw in Frozen Pool is that it tends to linger too long in its immaturity, blushing and flashing coquettish eyelashes until its charm has been completely exhausted. Like an adolescent at an adult dinner party, you just keep wishing Rosenvinge would send it to bed with one resonant yell.—Tizzy Asher

 
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