27 September 2007

Review: CD's -- Keyed In

Catching up... busy week, hate it when I actually have to work... short reviews of two CD's I was handed in the last month and have spent a good deal of time in the player since, both with two keyboard mavens at opposite ends of their careers:

Baby Elephants: Turn My Teeth Up!
Anyone that's taken Philosophy 101 can tell you that we exist in one of an infinite number of possible universes. The one we've got is equally as possible as one where George W. Bush plays whacked-out funk music and Bernie Worrell is President of these United States. I don't know what such a universe might be like to live in, but I know what the music there sound like: the shit on this CD. It's funk from through the wormhole. We are living in the age of tribute: where tribute albums grow on trees and you can turn a rock over in any Manhattan music club and find a swarm of tribute bands hiding from the light of original compositions. But this album is something different, the self-tribute album -- the whole thing is essentially a tribute to the Wizard of Woo that stars Worrell himself at the center. He's surrounded by Prince Paul and Newkirk, but they essentially serve to fan Bernie with large (hip hop scented) palm fronds while he lounges around being fed grapes. The result is a weird mix of all-over-the-map genre bending with Bernie showcasing his multiple talents on songs that are, for the large part, about him. If that wasn't enough, there are these mostly tongue-in-cheek between-song "skits" and tributary samples that serve to tie it together with a little story. As corny as it sounds, it actually comes off pretty well. A whole slew of guests pepper the tracks with luminaries like George Clinton and David Byrne -- guys who saw through the insanity that is Bernie Worrell and captured some of the magic for their own ends -- coming back to truly pay tribute in the original sense of the word. The first half of the disc has its hits and misses, but this album creeps up on you and midway through (right around the point when Byrne comes aboard to ask "How does the brain wave?") it hits it's stride and gets deep into the "I can't remember if I'm really fucking stoned or not" brand of funk music. I'm not sure the track with Gabby La La ever starts or ends, because every time I've heard it I always seem lost midway through. This is not your bump and grind funk music, more like the hifalutin, dorm room grooves in the P-Funk mold, with some excursions into reggae (w/ Yellowman), hip hop and cheesy urban love ballads. It ain't perfect, but it is, in sum, a perfect tribute to Bernie Worrell and one that will creep up on you if you give it the chance of a few listens. I recommNed. Ned-O-Matic: 6.0

Marco Benevento -- Live at Tonic
Yeah, the book is usually, almost always better, but sometimes, in those rare instances, the movie elevates the story to something different and distills the essence out of the narrative in a way the author maybe never knew it could. And yes, 9 times out of 10, the recordings don't do justice to the performance, the live show is where the magic happens, but every once it's the tapes that tell the story. I was lucky enough to catch several nights of Marco Benevento's Tonic residency last fall and that November I happily lapped it up as live music purity the perfect confluence of 3 of my favorite live music entities: the weekly resideNYC (greatest concept ever), the late Tonic (probably my favorite venue from 2001-2006) and Marco Benevento. And even though it took him 3 CD's to do it, he's topped the shows themselves with one of the best live albums I've heard in a long, long while. This music is it. What live music is all about. Grand piano, organ, deep funky synth and little toy trinkets -- of course, Marco does it all and with as much as skill as anyone else out there. That alone, Benevento's playing, makes this an album well worth any music lover's while, but there's so much more. For one, it's not even clear to me that Marco is the star of the music. Most of the "wow!" moments are charged by someone else -- I mean disc 1 track 1 doesn't take off until Reed Mathis does something that should probably be illegal with his bass. Marco falls back all over the place, always to perfect effect: Mike Gordon shines on the 3 disc closing tracks; Scotty Metzger wails when the duo covers Combustible Edison and the three-headed drum+percussion beast is happy to take the melody for once while Benevento hangs back and plays rhythm for once. There are few musicians I have seen who take such sheer joy in the playing of music like Marco does -- he might enjoy playing it more than his audience enjoy listening which is saying something -- and it is that spirit that permeates throughout, whether on perfectly executed cover songs, brand new compositional brilliance or just furthest-reaches full-blown improvisation. It was 5 nights in November, 5 completely different ensembles and the album comes off as 3+ hours of one singular epic performance. These CD's make me giddy, one of the better things you can buy this year. Ned-O-Matic: 8.5

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I would have to surmise that the wrong Prince produced this record and that Prince Paul is better suited to producing rappers than musicians, especially a musician of Mr. Worrell’s stature. The biggest disappointment; The George Clinton song sounds like it happened in one take and is a waste of collaboration in my opinion.