The Red Krayola
Avant-garde rockers have to be the most patient people in the world. They make a release, then wait a decade or more until someone notices. That's what happened with the Red Krayola, whose current resurgence (two full-length CDs, an EP and two singles since 1994) came about when -- for only the second time in the group's 30-year career -- someone noticed.
Formed in Houston out of the '60s Texas psychedelic scene that spawned 13th Floor Elevators, the Red Krayola (Crayola before the trademark lawyers called) made a bunch of increasingly abstract records in 1966 and '67. Then they all but disappeared until the late 1970s, when sole remaining member Mayo Thompson briefly resurfaced in England with a spate of Krayola recordings that featured a new generation of dada/skronkers, including members of Pere Ubu, Swell Maps and X-Ray Spex.
Now Thompson has dusted off his crayon for yet another go-around. On Hazel, as with his other recent recordings, he hooks up with, among others, Chicago underground scenesters John McEntire (Tortoise) and Jim O'Rourke and David Grubbs (both of Gastr del Sol). With the help of these musicians, could it be that the Red Krayola's time has come? Actually, that's doubtful, considering that his supporting cast is still struggling to be heard themselves.
But perhaps there's power in numbers. Hazel employs a cast of 15 to produce what could be Thompson's most successful amalgam yet of melody, rhythm and experimentation. Where past Red Krayola outings have been frustratingly jagged and opaque, Hazel emphasizes the accessible ("I'm So Blase") over the impenetrable ("Boogie").
Angularity and dissonance are still well represented, but most of the material manages to shift gracefully between freeform abstraction and well-crafted tunesmithing. (*** 1/2)
-- Roni Sarig
This Austin band's launching track, "Don't Buy the Realistic," sounds like it should be filed in the post-Pixies slot, somewhere between the catchiest Sincola and run-of-the-mill Toadies, which doesn't speak well to Spoon's originality quotient.
Of course, neither Sincola nor the Toadies are terribly strong in the originality game either, and that hasn't stopped them from making CDs that, if the Pixies's Surfer Rosa or Doolittle isn't handy, makes for a reasonable substitute. Ditto for Spoon's "Telephono," which thrives on pounding rhythms, squiggly guitar lines and sloppy harmonies, suggesting once again that the hole originally mined by Black Francis and Company was deeper, and fuller of ore, than anyone guessed at the time. And what Spoon lacks in terms of a sound it can call its own, it compensates for in consistency. There's not a stinker on this disc, and three or four tunes even rise to the lofty level of their inspiration.
Call it a tribute CD, unless you're buddies with the band, in which case you'll be called upon to invent some more flattering angle. Whatever you do, turn it up; the louder "Telephono" is played, the less its obvious pedigree matters. (*** 1/2)
-- Brad Tyer
A few years back, before she picked up and moved to San Francisco, Kellye Gray was arguably Houston's finest -- and probably most popular -- jazz vocalist. Her debut CD, Standards in Gray, was among the best-selling early releases on Justice Records, but when Tomato Kiss was recorded in 1992, Gray was without label backing. Now, four years later, the local Proteus Recordings has revived this underappreciated gem. With its all-star cast -- including late pianist Dave Catney, to whom the CD is dedicated, saxophonist Warren Snead, drummer Sebastian Whittaker, bassist David Craig, guitarist Erich Avinger, percussionist Kuko Miranda and horn player supreme Dennis Dotson -- this release exceeds Standards's standards. Among the numerous standouts are the opening track, Charlie Parker's "Billie's Bounce," which highlights Gray's low-register muted trumpet imitation, as well as short solos by Snead and Catney. "Speak Low" follows, with a fine flYgelhorn break from Dotson. And the title track is reminiscent of Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage-era excursions.
As for Gray, her vocal stylings bear distinct resemblances to Sarah Vaughan and Ethel Merman. The Vaughan similarities suit Gray the best, as her bombastic Mermanisms often seem a bit out of context. If these were show tunes, the Merman similarities would be fine, but atop Tomato Kiss's smooth, post-bebop mood jazz, cabaret-style vibrato breaks the flow. Fortunately, a strong Ethel wind only occasionally blusters through Kiss. (*** 1/2)
-- Mark Towns
Jesus Christ Superstars
Laibach is from the former Yugoslavian republic of Slovenia, and if that makes you think they're another Eastern European Goth band, you're right. But this isn't a Slovenian band intent on conveying Slovenianity -- or, for that matter, a Goth band intent on Gothic purity. Laibach is on the much funnier mission of being a Slovenian Goth band trying its damnedest to appeal to an American pop audience. I doubt Jesus Christ Superstars was meant to be this hysterically satisfying, but in school they told me authorial intent didn't matter, so what the hey?
The guitars are heavy metal, the orchestral arrangements are bombastic, the girls singing background are straight off The Omen soundtrack and the vocals are in English. There's a Prince cover ("The Cross"), the title manipulation and an awful lot of really pompous art-creep insinuation in the band's statement -- stuff such as, "From an aggressive commentary on communism, Laibach turned their critical voice to capitalism and the entertainment industry" and "Currently, Laibach is exposing the uses and misuses of Christianity in (postmodern) society." Thanks for sharing, friends.
Jesus Christ Superstars is so thoroughly hapless, so overblown and earnest, so innocent as to be oblivious of an awareness of its own innocence, that it's kind of cute. It's like a baby who can't yet walk trying to stomp. (***)
-- Brad Tyer
Fourth & Broadway
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In the postmodern world, jazz has become a catchall for a lot of unclassifiable instrumental and vocal music. Such is the case with Reece's So Far. Spare yet enveloping, Reece's hybridizations of house, rave, jungle and jazz succeed like those of many of his contemporaries. But unlike most of them -- Tricky, UFO, Kenny Larkin or mixers such as Doctor and DJ Pulse -- Reece is an unabashedly artsy sophisticate.
A white kid from England, Reece assembles music that's refined, urban and, oddly enough, distinctly American. There's electronic love feasts with tiny tympanic drum bits ("Pulp Friction"), bassy ebullience ("Candles -- Original Mix") to turn your head around and double-time jungle beats coolly and comfortably joined with sparse keyboards and pinches of guitar. Without musical training or mastery of any instrument, Reece fashions catchy, compelling soundscapes not unlike an updated version of Kraftwerk's sampling genius -- albeit after a few too many smart drinks. Improvisational and intuitive without shame, So Far is a fitting and forward-moving tribute to the basic tenets of jazz. (*** 1/2)
-- Brendan Doherty
CDs are rated on a one to five star scale.