When Guru, the lyrical half of the hip-hop duo Gang Starr, released the first Jazzmatazz back in 1993, it seemed like someone had finally hit the right note in bridging the waters of black music. Though hip hop/jazz hybrids were already thriving in the Bay Area at that time, Guru's work with the likes of MC Solaar, N'Dea Davenport, and Donald Byrd opened up a new musical frontier to a national audience. But since then, the genre has been extensively mined by underground DJs and producers in such series as Rebirth of Cool and DJ Smash's Fat Jazzy Grooves 1-10, not to mention countless singles from all over the world. If the premiere Jazzmatazz was state of the art, this purported "New Reality" is merely status quo.
Perhaps Guru was stung by rap purists' criticisms that his first effort wasn't "hard" enough. On Jazzmatazz II, Guru tries to be tougher-than-leather, overcompensates, and ends up having very little of substance to say, even if his theme is the importance of the black family. Guru's trademark monotone embodies too much New York ennui; the jazzy backgrounds are infinitely more interesting than his tired braggadoccio. And with few exceptions, the all-star guests seem to have just happened to be in the neighborhood. This is Guru solo, not the fully realized collaborations of Jazzmatazz I. Call it the Frank Sinatra Duets of hip hop/jazz.
Breaking out of this model, though, is "Young Ladies," featuring Kool Keith of Ultramagnetic MCs and Patra on vocals, and the considerable organ talents of Kenny Garrett. A pulsating, funkafied, jazz-reggae-rap discourse on pursuing the opposite sex, it's matched only by "The Lifesaver," one of the few songs to actually hit the social commentary target Guru aims for. At 20 tracks, Jazzmatazz II attempts too much. You'd think it would be hard to lose artists like Chaka Khan, Ramsey Lewis, Freddie Hubbard, and Courtney Pine in the shuffle, but Guru pulls it off.
-- Eric K. Arnold
This two-hour, double-CD documentation of last year's marathon performance at the Great American Music Hall is essentially "Nik Turner's Hawkwind Experience," a term former Hawkwind saxophonist/flutist Turner himself coins during a band-intro spiel on Disc 2. In other words, it walks 'n' squawks an awful lot like a Hawk, but since fellow charter bird Dave Brock legally holds the moniker, this is technically a Nik Turner CD -- even though it takes the name Space Ritual from the H-band's 1974 live magnum opus, and half the 20 tracks were originally recorded by the aforementioned seminal '70s space-rock group.
While falling short of pure Hawkwind-mania, Turner and his band do a pretty good job of placating hungry Hawkheads. Turner, Helios Creed, Genesis P-Orridge, members of L.A.'s Pressurehed, and Hawkwind alumni Allan Powell and electronic wood-axe player Del Dettmar strain the essence of vintage 'wind -- i.e., eight-minute anthems based on a relentless riff interspersed with absurd sci-fi poetry -- through a more modern rave aesthetic, with Creed adding a metallic, effects-laden guitar sheen recalling his old space-punk band Chrome. Whether thrashing through Hawkwind classics like "Brainstorm" or "Master of the Universe," or tromping through songs like Chrome's "T.V. as Eyes," this is wildly archetypal space rock, a friggin' circus of flanged power chords, swooshing synths, blippy electronics, and goofy lyrics like "Utopia: Where the rivers run with Budweiser beer." (Actually, that's not very "spacey," but I couldn't resist mentioning it.)
I can personally vouch for these discs doing this performance justice, audiowise. But they barely hint at the highly weird imagery of pasty half-bird/half-alien Turner -- arguably the strangest looking man in rock -- honkin' and skronkin' for three hours in his space togs, replete with headgear, wacky glasses, and face paint. You truly had to be there.
-- Mike Rowell
R> Nik Turner's Space Ritual plays Sun, Aug. 6, at the Great American Music Hall in S.F.; call 995-0750.
The Charlie Hunter Trio
Bing, Bing, Bing!
Local lion Charlie Hunter's big-time debut hits the streets under the resurrected aegis of the prestigious Blue Note label. Considering Hunter's trio aims for an amorphous netherworld somewhere between traditional jazz and modern hipster (read: mostly rock) culture, congratulations are in order: Bing, Bing, Bing! could be the one multigenre "fusion" album that squeezes into many die-hard modern-rockers' collections, featuring, as it does, a telltale (if altogether reconfigured) cover of Nirvana's "Come as You Are" and an easy-to-swallow soul-jazz feel.
As Hunter lays bass foundations and simulates silky organ fills with his unusual eight-string guitar, tenor saxophonist Dave Ellis ends up dominating much of the record. The result is a strutting, locomotive jazz style that's often as infectious as that of Maceo Parker. At its least inspired, the release comes across like a cousin to the always-aiming-to-please Tonight Show band, but for the most part Hunter knows how to mix up his deliveries with winning results. Aside from his own lead guitar runs, which often dip mischievously into wah-wah country, Hunter pursues a welcome variety of other muses on many of his randomly titled compositions. "Fistful of Haggis," for instance, features an amusing marriage of Jay Lane's nearly second-line drumming to a wayward pedal-steel guitar. On "Lazy Susan (with a client now)," the disc's most rooted and introspective number, the absorbed phrases of a clarinet make way for equally subdued turns on trombone and sax. But the bulk of Bing, Bing, Bing! is targeted for unmitigated enjoyment; fittingly, Hunter signs off with a nimble nod to his Valencia Street breeding grounds on the signature tune "Elbo Room."
-- James Sullivan
The Charlie Hunter Trio host a record-release party Fri, Aug. 4, at Bimbo's in S.F.; call 47R>4-0365.
Dub Narcotic Sound System
Is it possible to bumble gracefully? No doubt the folks in Dub Narcotic Sound System -- a free-form (in more ways than one) musical conglomerate whose revolving lineup includes Beat Happening/K Records kingpin Calvin Johnson and various members of Dead Presidents -- think so. On Industrial Breakdown, Johnson and cohorts do a little stylistic slumming through the Valley of Dub. While it's not exactly a sloppy affair, it's loose and rudimentary enough to suggest a certain detached indolence that still seems to strive for its own rubbery poise.
Which, in the context of Johnson's greater oeuvre and this adopted genre, makes sense. Slipshod minimalism is a central tenet of the Beat Happening MO, and airtight dynamics (or any kind of dynamics at all, really) have never been dub's strong point. Actually, the EP gets off to a fairly punchy, if seemingly interminable, start. The opening "Industrial Breakdown" sounds like nothing so much as the Drells running through "Tighten Up," albeit fronted by a Quaalude-addled Archie Bell drawling passages from Das Kapital ("Punch the time clock in their face/ Disrupted production schedules/ Destroy the tyrant that enslaved the race" -- yeesh!). Yes, politics and dub are virtually inextricable, but Johnson sounds more like a town drunk on a three-day bender than a sage revolutionary.
From there on in, though, it's strictly lotus-eating time. "The Beat From 20,000 Fathoms" is literally submerged beneath a languid swell of loping bass lines, spring reverb, and psychotropic drum mixes; "Typecast Sanction" ultimately ends up dragging like a deer with an ass full of buckshot. Though weighing in at a measly five songs, Breakdown manages a stunning amount of regurgitation: e.g., the title cut and "(Industrial) Revolution Inclusion" are, for all intents and purposes, the same song.
The kinder ears among us might chalk the release up as a noble experiment, or an homage to a woR>rthy genre that's never quite gotten its due in the public eye. As a whole, though, the slapdash execution raises a few questions: When is an experiment just a toss-off substitute for a more fully realized effort? And is a half-assed homage anything more than a trite parody? Industrial Breakdown sits comfortably enough on the fence to leave such questions unanswered. Whether that's good or bad is yet another matter of speculation.
-- Tim Kenneally
Dub Narcotic Sound System plays Tues, Aug. 8, at the Bottom of the Hill in S.F.; call 626-4455.
You Are Here
(Mafia Money Records)
What's left for an Amerindie guitar band to say? With a glut of shaggy-haired rockers mimicking Pavement on the path to stardom, the genre has grown to resemble Jabba the Hut -- an unwieldy, lazy blob. Everything's been done to death in lo-fi land, but fresh-faced upstarts can always re-energize even the stalest of scenes.
Enter S.F. homeboys Hugh: Melodic and attitude-free, You Are Here, the outfit's second release, flies in the face of smirking amateurishness. And while a case could be made that Hugh is a freak cross-pollination of '80s psych-pop heroes Dream Syndicate and Let's Active with quirky '90s gents like Sebadoh and Buffalo Tom, Hugh stakes out new galaxies by tossing in influences rare to the form. The acoustic "Sleepy Time" evokes magic carpets and Arabian nights with its Middle Eastern backbeat, while "The Clever Liver," a quick bodhran drum excursion from trapsman Gavin Foster, sounds either African or Irish in origin, depending on your mind-set at the time. The unnamed sixth track that splits the album in two is a slice of backward-masked pop and hiss guitar tape loop that could double as a Stone Roses outtake.
Not to be outdone, Hugh also takes its own little weird, wired, and caffeinated journey to the human heart with luxuriant tales of love lost and longing. These tracks launch slowly, riding the somber hues of guitarists/vocalists Bayete Henderson and David RR>osenheim, eventually boiling over into aural assaults. "Me and Anna in a Box" jangles like the Posies and eats dirt like Sonic Youth; "Cherry Bomb" closes things with a feedback-soaked sour nugget of a relationship gone south. You Are Here is the first indie record to catch my ear this year. So much for flogging a dead horse.
-- Jamie Kemsey
Hugh plays Sun, Aug. 6, at the Kilowatt in S.F.; call 861-2595.