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Mr Lucky
Music Reviews

Vocal Sampling
Una Forma Mas
Sire 617922 Cuba / Latin

The thought of a cappella is not what excites our soul. A cut here or there, sure, but a whole disc starts to drive us bonkers before long. Even groups we respect like Take 9 or Zap Mama work best when individual tracks are included on a mixed tape.

Vocal Sampling is a difficult group to review because while one side of the brain is amazed at the vocal acrobatics, the other side is saying "so what?". The selection of songs here would be a great representation of The Great Cuban Songbook, if there were one, most of the tracks are marred by overkill or a silly nasal "forties" sound.

One of the better tracks is La Negra Tomasa (also known as Bilongo). But even here we can think of three versions we like better, Tito Rodriguez' in particular. Beny Moré's Dolor y Perdon is turned into a cartoon soundtrack and his Que Bueno Baila Usted is given a clever treatment but it falls so short of the original or even Oscar d'Leon's remake you wonder why anyone would bother.

Approaching Vocal Sampling as a novelty act would provide some mild amusement but for something resembling real musical satisfaction, look to a good Beny Moré compilation.

Review originally appeared Summer 95

2 martinis

 

Spain
The Blue
Moods of Spain
Restless 7729102 Pop

We remember quite awhile back seeing a music video for the not so cutting edge rock group Nelson. There was prefabricated concert footage of the two long haired, denim clad fellows. In the audience there were several huge American flags being waved by actors playing audience members ("All right, U.S.A.!!!!"). We thought it odd that here was a whole new generation taking the trappings of the 1960s and early 1970s and adopting them without acknowledging their anti-establishment and counter culture references, even if their "hippie-look" long hair had been carefully blow dried.

Here's another case where packaging is deceiving. The blurb sticker on the case claims a quote from the New York Times: "...where the streets are made of red velvet, the fog is as thick as cigarette smoke and the snow is martini olives". The artwork seems inspired by Bluenote and the group's name conjures up some sort of Latin reference. Sounds like MrLucky territory.

The reality is a very run-of-the-mill pop album on Quaaludes. Leader Josh Haden has obviously listened to a lot of Elvis Costello and 1980s "new wave" bands. While he imitates the sound of Costello's voice, he hasn't got the phrasing down and being that Costello is hardly a singer, the phrasing is pretty key. The songwriting is blatantly sophomoric with no interesting turns or challenges. Where the red velvet, cigarette smoke and martini olives come in is anyone's guess.

We normally don't review such pedestrian fare but the truth in advertising issue seems to have been violated.

Fall 95

 

 Various Artists
The History of Space Age Pop Vols 1-3
RCA/Advance RADV66645-2, 66646-2, 66647-2 Easy Listening / Lounge
 

Entertaining ourselves in the late 1970s and early 80's meant scouring the Salvation Army and other fine thrift stores for clothes, cocktail shakers, furniture and most importantly, Lps. Like many collectors, the initial appeal was mostly based on the wacky covers. The music was often funny and we'd play it at our celebrated cocktail parties as a hoot, but slowly and surely we came to love this nutty genre that has been called Space Age Bachelor Pad Music and now Space Age Pop.

We were never as manic about collecting as others we knew. Our tastes started heading South Of The Border with the countless Xavier Cugat and Edmundo Ros collections available, which of course led to our now legendary love of things Afro-Latin, authentic and otherwise. Now, collecting is a very expensive hobby and most of the choice titles are in others' collections. The days of three for a dollar are long gone.

For those even mildly interested in the genre, RCA/Advance Music has released a wonderful tribute called Space Age Pop. Unless you really are odd (and that can be a good thing), the contents of this three volume set should keep you perfectly happy for awhile. There will no doubt be nit-picking pedants who find fault with the selections, but this set is a winner. This goes beyond RE/Search's Incredibly Strange Music series, which is fine but a bit cynical. Here, with a more distinct focus, much of the music is silly, some of it great and all of it fun and inspired by something we can barely understand in the 1990s.

You know you're really in trouble when about halfway through the first disc you notice that the music doesn't sound so weird at all. In fact, we were thinking how in many ways this music is similar to Jamaican dub music, which focuses on a style of music that was mostly in vogue a generation or two earlier (Space age pop songs were mostly well known standards). The basic rhythms are the same as the inspired genre, but the orchestrations and melody are whittled away to their barest minimums and the hooks are brought up front.

If you even have the slightest hint of a sense of humor, you can enjoy these discs on that simple level, but there's a lot more going on here and discovering it is quite a bit of fun.

Fall 95

 Hazel Scott
Relaxed Piano Moods
Debut / OJCD 1702-2 Jazz

Hazel Scott was a kitten on the keys. This recording made with Charles Mingus and Max Roach is great cocktail jazz. It starts out slow and the tempo continues to build. Scott has a rather clunky style and is hardly one of the greats, but this wonderful date makes for easy listening in the best sense.

Scott was married to the late Adam Clayton Powell, if you're looking for cocktail chat to accompany this disc.

Summer 95

 Various Artists
Disques Vogue In Paris: Highlights
BMG/RCA 09026682172 Jazz
 

Although this disc is meant to be a sampler to entice you to try other Disques Vogue titles, it really stands on its own merits, at a bargain price few can resist. All the tracks were recorded in Paris between 1948 and 1956 by great American jazz players who were at the same time on their best behavior and free to try new things. The highlights for us are Gigi Gryce's Paris the Beautiful, a gorgeously orchestrated tribute to City of Light and Roy Eldridge's really bitchy The Man I Love, which conjures up an image of a completely different fellow than the Gershwins imagined.

We found this for $7.00.

Summer 95

 Alan Broadbent Trio
Pacific Standard Time
Concord Jazz CCD 4664 Jazz

We have something really fine in this recording by the Alan Broadbent Trio. Gorgeous, full, straight ahead jazz that manages to sound hip and traditional at the same time. Concord Jazz has released some impressive titles over the years but it would be safe to call them very conservative, even with their Picante label that releases mostly Latin jazz. This isn't a bad thing but boredom can creep in and take over. From the really attractive artwork to the actual recording, Pacific Standard Time proves there's life in the old girl yet.

This trio from New Zealand really can swing. They also can choose a well rounded intelligent set of songs that works individually and as a group. The actual recording is pristine without being sterile which is a real plus because Putter Smith's wonderful walking bass lines are up front where they belong.

In Love In Vain meanders for too long and is more a showcase for Broadbent's speed on the piano than great music, but every other track is a good reason to buy this CD.

While the piano playing of Alan Broadbent is quite a great new discovery, it's not as if he were just pulled out of a hat. He'd been working as an arranger for years with the likes of Mel Tormé, Woody Herman and Irene Kral. He even arranged numbers on Natalie Cole's underrated Take A Look.

Hot karaoke tip: This unusually upbeat version of I Should Care is fun for a sing-along. Try it for yourself and see!

Fall 95

 

Dianne Reeves
Quiet After the Storm
Blue Note CDP 724382951124 Vocals

We are generally very kind folks here and it really takes a pretty awful disc to whip out the poison pen. Last year we weren't very forgiving to poor old Barbra Streisand for her pathetic Back To Broadway and we were even more stern with Dianne Reeves for her ridiculously indulgent mess called Art & Survival. There's nothing worse than a big talent taking a wrong turn. Streisand gave up music years ago to be a movie star so we don't expect much, but Reeves' disc was a follow up to her brilliant I Remember and we felt betrayed.

Quiet After the Storm doesn't make up for Art & Survival and it doesn't reach the same high as I Remember but it's basically pretty solid and hopefully the start of a long climb back up to the top of the female vocalist heap.

Reeves is no songwriter and the energy she spends expressing herself would be better spent looking for real songwriters. Her lyrics are full of tired cliches or they're sickeningly cute. You could smile away the storm clouds...../and it feels just like sunshine when that smile lights up your face. Yuck.

Luckily she's in great voice and a few of the songs are really wonderful. Her takes on Comes Love and In a Sentimental Mood are great. Her dirge delivery of Both Sides Now, however, must be left over from Art & Survival. On the whole, we are willing to forgive but not forget. Let's see what she does next.

Summer 95

 

 Beny More
The Very Best of Beny More' Vols 1 & 2
RCA 74321260292 / 74321262382 Cuba

We've gone on many times before about the great Beny Moré in these pages. Nobody better represents the wonderful marriage of Cuban influences in the 1950s than Beny. We're hardly the first to recognize his talents. Beny Moré is to Cuban popular music what Sinatra is to the Yanquis. Like Sinatra, Beny can swing with the best yet some of his best and most memorable songs are Latin ballads, or boleros.

These two discs are mostly re-releases of Moré classics using the first generation analog masters, which means the sound is about as clean and pure as we can hope for. That doesn't mean these volumes are now in stereo but they do sound great. Whether they sound good enough to buy again if your Beny Moré collection is complete is debatable. There are a few cuts we were unfamiliar with and we think Beny is so swell that purchasing these budget line CDs was an easy task.

For those new to El Barbara del Ritmo, this would be a great place to start. Take Volume 2, put it on your hi-fi and turn out all the lights. Play Cuando Quieras Volver at top volume and imagine slow dancing with the best Cuban rum running through your bloodstream and the ideal dance partner (who claims not to mind your smoking a big fat cigar) in your arms. The moon is full, illuminating the palms over the bay. The heat is still intense even though it's late evening, yet somehow you remain refreshed and ready for your date with destiny. Gosh, life is great!

Summer 95

 

 Albita
No Se Parece a Nada
Crescent Moon / Epic 66966 Salsa

Mark our words: You will hear hype. Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the King and Queen of Miami, in case you haven't heard, have decided Albita is the next great Cuban songstress. Albita has a very nice voice and has the potential to be a fine singer except that she sounds so much like Cuba's Celina Gonzales at times that it's weird. This in itself isn't so bad. Bobby Darin sounded like Sinatra and Laura Nyro was indistinguishable from Streisand at one time. The mistake is the collaboration with the Miami Sound Machine, an organization that had a big disco hit with the song that urged us to "Do The Conga!", even though the beat wasn't vaguely Afro-Latin, let alone the easily identifiable conga.

The Estefans have done what they do best, which is take talent and process it into slick mediocre product. The end result is not unpleasant; it's just sterile, bland and overproduced.

Our advice is to pass. Listen to the Qbadisc Celina Gonzales collection, or better yet, some vintage recordings with her late husband Ruetillo. We'll check back with Albita after she leaves the Estefans.

Summer 95
 


 



The Martini rating System

© Coconut Grove Media


Scientific, Accurate
& Easy To Understand!
5 Martinis = Classic
4 Martinis = Great
3 Martinis = Good
2 Martinis = Fair
1 Martini = Poor

 

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