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Sound bites

By Times staff, correspondents

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


K.D. LANG, INVINCIBLE SUMMER (WEA/WARNER BROS.) -- "In the depth of winter I finally learned that within me lay an invincible summer." So wrote the French writer Albert Camus. Apparently singer k.d. lang agrees, since it's the first thing you see in the liner notes for Invincible Summer, her new album.

And what a summery album it is. So blissful are tunes like Extraordinary Thing. it's tough to imagine lang has ever been down. She sounds like a lovestruck California girl, dashing through waves and frolicking with her best girl. Lyrically, the songs celebrate love, love, love. Musically, it's a lush mix of loungey dance music, retro girl-group pop, Brazilian bossa nova and sweet West Coast tunes, the kind the Mamas and the Papas and the Beach Boys used to make. String arrangements and yummy harmonies abound.

This is lang at her most cavalier. Picture her grinning as she sings. Charmers like the airy, upbeat Summerfling make one hope the affair will last. Grade: B+ -GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic

JURASSIC 5: QUALITY CONTROL, (UNI/INTERSCOPE) -- West Coast and gangsta rap. The words just seem to belong together like "nine" and "millimeter."

But Los Angeles' Jurassic 5 stomps out that image with four MCs, two DJs and enough talent for a posse five times as big. The individual lyrics and styles sparkle. They combine the usual rap bravado with a remarkable ability to turn a deft phrase at the drop of a turntable arm. But the quality of Quality Control doesn't end with lone rappers. At times, the crew of J5 rhymes together like an urban barbershop quartet. Or, in their words, 'Cause it's the brothers on the mic occupying the drums/Taking four MCs and make them sound like one.

And that's just the rapping. DJs Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark create a nifty backdrop for the lyrics on every track. As the words bounce around amid spare beats and obscure samples, it's obvious that these DJs are doing more than just laying down beats for some frontmen to talk over. No, each pound of bass, sample, scratch and beat switch demonstrates their ear for music and aptitude for making totally unrelated sonic snippets sing. The best evidence of this is Swing Set, a wordless track by the DJs that is nothing but swing music and spoken word clips scratched, cut, and melded into a seamless, danceable whole.

Like the gangsta rap that has risen from the streets of California cities during the past decade, Jurassic 5 has no shortage of self-hype in their tracks. The Game, in fact, is a collection of basketball-themed verses about why they are better than you, AND your whack crew. But Jurassic 5 doesn't wallow in it. They talk about the industry, about life and the people around them with scarcely the mention of an Uzi. If there's any beating-down to be done, it'll be with a pair of Technics 1200s and a mic.

The group has been relatively underground in the rap scene since J5 formed 1993. This is their first full-length album, and the rappers make sure to poke a little fun at their move to the mainstream music money trough. W.O.E. is Me (World of Entertainment) begins with a clip from the song Movin' On Up, "we finally got a piece of the pie." But as they make sure to say throughout, more money isn't going to change them.

That remains to be seen. But Jurassic 5's first full-length album doesn't seem to have suffered at the hands of a profit-greedy studio or lackadaisical effort. Jurassic 5's name sounds old-school. But Quality Control is cutting-edge and fresher than a bay breeze through L.A. smog. Grade: A -GERRY DOYLE, Times staff writer

VARIOUS ARTISTS, THANK YOU, JOE! (ARKADIA) -- There's nothing like an appealing concept to draw listeners into a mainstream jazz release, and (Clearwater Jazz Holiday-bound) pianist Eric Reed and several contemporaries land on such a programming strategy with their homage to the sound and sensibility of modern tenor giant Joe Henderson.

The fourth in the label's Grammy-nominated series of tribute discs touches on several key phases of the honoree's durable career, beginning with the funky soul-jazz of his Mamacita, one of several tracks notable for the incisive improvising and rich tone of Henderson-influenced saxophonist Javon Jackson.

Jackson is also center stage on Latin-jazz standard Recorda Me, brightened by trumpeter Randy Brecker's solo excursion, quirky bebop gem Isotope and zig-zagging blues burner Granted. The young tenor favorite ratches up the tension of the oddly metered Gazelle (alternating between 7/8 and 4/4 time), a one-track collaboration with pianist Joanne Brackeen's trio.

Brecker and trumpeter Terrell Stafford engage in an energetic cutting contest on hard-bop piece The Kicker, and former Henderson sideman Reed, bassist Rodney Whitaker and drummer Carl Allen go it alone on the intimate, elegant Thelonious Monk ballad Ask Me Now, a regular part of Henderson's repertoire.

Henderson, who experienced a career comeback thanks to his own series of concept albums on the Verve label in the '90s, would approve. Grade: B -PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent

NORTH MISSISSIPPI ALLSTARS, SHAKE HANDS WITH SHORTY (TONE-COOL) -- Trance blues is probably the best description of R.L. Burnside's Goin' Down South, the bruising, brooding centerpiece of Shake Hands With Shorty, the North Mississippi Allstars' impressive debut disc. Luther Dickinson mumbles the morose lyrics, using his guitar to scratch out the one-chord riff, and then digging deeper, ever deeper into the contours of the tune. His brother, drummer Cody Dickinson, and bassist Chris Chew meanwhile drive home the rugged rhythms.

The twentysomething siblings, sons of Memphis musician and producer Jim Dickinson (Replacements, Rolling Stones), as teenagers asked their parents to relocate from a middle-class neighborhood to the Mississippi hill country, down the road from veteran bluesmen Burnside and the late Junior Kimbrough. The relocation had its intended effect: The former rock 'n' rollers absorbed the influences of the rural setting, spending much time in area juke joints, and in 1996 emerged as the Allstars.

The trio, simultaneously rooted in the ancient soulful sound of Burnside and Mississippi Fred McDowell, and the noisy revisionist blues of Jon Spencer, zigzags all over the blues-roots landscape, slipping sweet slide figures between the cracks of McDowell's funky Shake 'Em on Down, and giving even freer rein to the bottleneck on Burnside's Po Black Maddie.

Bits of power-trio rock a la Cream, Hendrix-style psychedelia, and spontaneity in the neo-jam band mode show up in the sound of the Allstars, augmented on the disc by such guests as pianist East Memphis Slim (dad Jim), two of Burnside's grandsons and Alvin Youngblood Hart. And the final, 9-minute cover of Kimbrough's All Night Long opens up into a sprawling section spiked with a reference to the Allmans' Blue Sky. We'll be gleefully chewing on this one for a while (and savoring the aftertaste even longer). Grade: B+ —BOOTH

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