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By BRIAN ORLOFF and PHILIP BOOTH
ZWAN, MARY STAR OF THE SEA (REPRISE RECORDS) While Smashing Pumpkins devotees still mourn the group's breakup, front man Billy Corgan, still bald and harboring a messianic complex, delivers the antidote to combat the stale rock scene of late with Mary Star of the Sea, the debut album from his new band, Zwan.
Admire Corgan's cocksure stance as he swaggers, "Baby, I'm the greatest thing you got/ in a good way, I suppose" on the riveting, celebratory Baby Let's Rock!. It's a testament to the power of music, with lyrics sung above a zippy mix of guitar and the muscular drumming of Jimmy Chamberlin (yes, he, too, was a Pumpkin). And with his famously clipped nasal voice, Corgan has a delivery that sounds earnest.
Opening track Lyric begins with a focus on the spiritual. The song catapults with a slingshot drum beat and messy entangling of guitar and bass, along with Corgan's low howl, "Here comes my faith to carry me on/ a faith not of grade/ I fight to stay strong so I/ stand accused of playing numb." Bassist Paz Lenchantin (of A Perfect Circle) provides sweet harmonies on the chorus.
Settle Down favors the guitar noodling of Matt Sweeny and David Pajo, and the single Honestly might be a cousin to Smashing Pumpkins' megahit 1979, finding Corgan uncharacteristically candid ("there's no place that I could be without you") and saccharine. Moments of understated beauty, such as Of a Broken Heart with its wistful cello and the faint tinkling of chimes on Heartsong, make this album the musical juggernaut Smashing Pumpkins fans have long awaited. A-
-- BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent
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ALANIS MORISSETTE, FEAST ON SCRAPS (MAVERICK) Love her or loathe her, Alanis Morissette knows how to treat her fans. Feast on Scraps is a gift to devotees, a comprehensive project that includes a DVD and a disc of unreleased music. Feast on Scraps' three hours of material will appeal to superfans eager to absorb songs that did not make the cut on Under Rug Swept, Morissette's 2002 album, and interested in sneaking backstage glimpses into Morissette's very non-rock star life.
As for the music, Morissette offers eight new songs and an acoustic reading of Hands Clean. Many songs favor the poppy hooks that proved so winning on Under Rug Swept. Unfortunately, Morissette still insists on cramming as many words into her songs as possible, performing near acrobatic feats of phrasing. After a song or two, it feels calculated and vexing.
Alanis, we know you're working on yourself, and more power to you. But seriously, lay off the psychobabble. The edgy Unprodigal Daughter offers, "I had disengaged to avoid being totaled/ I would run away and say good riddance soon enough." Yet, melody is Morissette's forte, and her verbose songs, although moody and witchy, are usually quite catchy.
The DVD captures Morissette in an explosive concert from Rotterdam, the Netherlands. Morissette live is a visceral, intense experience; she stalks the stage, whipping her hair and spiraling into tortured fits and poses. The set list reads like a greatest hits collection, and the show is fun to watch, even if the director insists on cutting into grainy shots filmed from the crowd. Even better are Morissette's backstage bon mots as she portrays quirky characters or goofs around with her band and crew. B-
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MIKE CLARK, SUMMERTIME (JAZZKEY MUSIC) Funk drummer extraordinaire Mike Clark, a.k.a. the Headhunters' heartbeat, has been perhaps the most heavily sampled organic rhythm source on hip-hop records. Now he has tapped several jazz heavy hitters for his latest album as a leader. It's an acoustic followup to 2001's Conjunction, his funk- and fusion-edged collaboration with Headhunters bassist Paul Jackson and vibraphonist Marc Wagnon. So, yes, it's a departure, but Clark's drumming, properly placed at the front of the mix, is electric by nature: He drives the music on this album as effectively as he has with any of his other projects and makes this loose but simpatico assemblage of mix-and-match musicians come off as a working band.
Clark, unlike other drumming leaders, refuses to hog the spotlight. But he does get his licks in early and on more than one occasion, turning in a penetrating, melodic solo on the bouncy Brujo, an original composition by Jeff Pittson. The tune also has Chris Potter, the disc's other most valuable soloist, turning in dazzling serpentine lines on soprano sax. Next, it's on to the laid back groove of Fee Fi Fo Fum, the first of the disc's three Wayne Shorter pieces, bolstered by bassist Robert Hurst's singing solo lines. Clark kick starts Shorter's pensive Prince of Darkness with 30 seconds of snare derring-do and cymbal sizzle, later pushing tenor saxophonist Bob Sheppard to dizzying heights. Dolores, the airy Shorter composition that closes the album, benefits from Jack Walrath's scrambling trumpet improvisation, Potter's twisting tenor excursion and an open-ended coda.
Duke Ellington gets his props with a beautiful ballad, Frank Perowsky's For Duke, dominated by Billy Childs' elegant piano work, urged on by bassist James Genus and the drummer, and Ellington's sing-songy Angelica, lifted by Clark's snappy brushes. The title track, redesigned in 5/4 time, is moody and intriguing, driven by the Clark/Childs/Genus rhythm axis and topped by two tones that taste great together: Potter's tenor and Walrath's trumpet. The CD is an impressive effort. B.
-- PHILIP BOOTH, Times staff writer
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