The kitchen sink
Dipping into Jazz, house and blues reruns
While flute has been one of the less celebrated instruments in jazz, its role in the highly influential soul-jazz movement of the '60s and early-'70s is undeniable. The more rounded, mellow dynamic of the flute proved a proper fit for the contemporary groove-heavy and funk-inclined direction of the jazz tradition.
Heavy Flute (Label M), compiled by legendary jazz producer Joel Dorn, is an important musical document of this often-overlooked instrumental subgenre. As its name implies, the flute grooves are laid down hard and heavy on these cuts. While Herbie Mann's 1961 live recording of "Comin' Home Baby" is a historically appropriate opener, it's a somewhat subdued introduction to this collection of funky flute work. Still, the flute/vibes lockstep and understated spacious hand percussion lay down the album's smooth mood properly.
With its suspenseful string arrangements, horn section build-up and foot-chase tempo, David "Fathead" Newman's follow-up cut, "The Thirteenth Floor," could be the score from some lost blaxploitation film. Known for his tenor sax work, Newman's turn on the flute provides the collection with a memorable and kinetic solo workout. Other highlights of this very strong collection include Rahsaan Roland Kirk's explosive flute-overblown, scat-gone-crazy on the blues-stomp "One Ton." And the head of Yusef Lateef's "Nubian Lady" has a waiting-to-be-sampled quality, with its funky opening drumbeat and electric piano/bass groove.
In part, that's the beauty of Heavy Flute. It provides a complete look at the kinds of grooves our ears are used to hearing cut up, sampled and looped in today's re-mix culture. — Matt Hutchinson
The sheer industriousness of house producers is daunting: countless 12-inch singles, remixes galore, major albums every other year. All this activity can inspire skepticism — how hard is it, really, to program a few beats and loop some samples on top of them? That's one reason many house lovers put their trust in New York production team "Little" Louie Vega and Kenny "Dope" Gonzalez, aka Masters at Work: they seldom take the easy way out.
Not that the duo's ambitions always pan out: Only about half of 1997's conversin'-with-the-elders album Nuyorican Soul flew as high as its aspirations, for instance. But although a certain ponderousness infects their more self-consciously "musical" output, both The Tenth Anniversary Collection Part One: 1990-1995 and Part Two: 1996-2000, BBE's new pair of quadruple-CD box-set imports, are impressive nevertheless. Neither set is as consistent as you might hope for — they're less a double-headed Anthology of American House Music than clubland's equivalent of a Choose Your Own Adventure book. But they win points for convenience and thrift (about $25 apiece) — and for containing some of the best dance singles ever made.
Most house producers perfect one musical approach and dabble in others. Vega and Gonzalez are equally skilled at creating song-oriented vocal tracks, atmospheric instrumentals and DJ-oriented cut-ups. Barbara Tucker's utopian "Beautiful People" remains the essential '90s vocal-house record; like Tucker's perfect vocal, the record conveys passion while remaining elegantly controlled. By contrast, River Ocean's "Love and Happiness," sung by India (both on Part One), and Incognito's MAW-remixed "Nights Over Egypt" and "Always There," from Part Two, are over-the-top but effective disco homages. The latter pair shows the producers' aural cosmopolitanism at its most effortless — "Nights" recalls prime Earth, Wind & Fire.
Similarly '70s-revivalist is "MAW Expensive," a cover of Fela Kuti's classic "Expensive Shit." And Ruffneck's "Everybody Be Somebody" (Two), which frames a gruff sampled shout with a cooing female vocal, splits the difference between song and cut-up. In fact, despite Vega and Gonzalez's love for the dense arrangements of the jazz and salsa they grew up on, their DJ records — which owe much to hip-hop and Latin freestyle — tend to be just as boisterously musical as when they cross the Salsoul Orchestra with the Fania All-Stars. Partly this is because the grooves come first: Mindrive's "Deep Inside" and Gonzalez's irrepressible Bucketheads single, "The Bomb!" (both on One), extract enticing ghosts from their sources' down-to-earth flesh: "Beautiful People" and Chicago's "Street Player," respectively.
Vega and Gonzalez's sonic curvature round out what at bottom are rather angular rhythms; they also add surface roughness to a sinuous effort such as "The Nervous Track" (One), making its mélange of jazz-tinged hip-hop, house and acid jazz palatable to fans of all three — or none of the above. "Mind Fluid" (Two) consciously updates that early classic with trippier, more cleanly delineated production and a more playfully virtuosic feel — as if Vega and Gonzalez are alerting hungry young devotees such as Daft Punk and Basement Jaxx that after 10 years, Masters at Work are still as raw as they wanna be. — Michaelangelo Matos
This is it — Epic/Legacy Records' in-your-face, ev'r'thang-but-da-kitchen-sink answer to the bevy of Stevie Ray Vaughan bootlegs now in circulation. It's about time, too. Epic has released some fine material since Vaughan's death in 1990 (mostly under the guidance of Stevie's brother, Jimmie), including The Sky Is Crying, Live at Carnegie Hall and In the Beginning. However, the label also has embraced the annoying practice of repackaging previously released material with otherwise unissued bonus tracks (i.e., a cover of the Beatles' "Taxman" on Greatest Hits and only two new tracks on Blues at Sunrise, released earlier this year).
This time, though, they got it right. The four-CD set SRV (three audio discs, the fourth disc being DVD-video) features 36 previously unissued tracks, most of them live. Virtually all have that offbeat, unofficial quality that hardcore fans crave, without the suspect recording/production quality of many bootlegs.
The opening track is a 1977 studio recording of pre-Double Trouble SRV with Paul Ray and the Cobras. What follows, in roughly chronological order, are unissued studio outtakes and live performances from sound checks, radio and TV performances ("Austin City Limits," MTV's "Unplugged") and concerts, interspersed with previously released studio cuts. Included are Vaughan's passionate nods to his guitar heroes, among them Albert King ("Crosscut Saw"); Guitar Slim ("Letter to My Girlfriend," "Things That I Used to Do"); Buddy Guy ("Let Me Love You Baby," "Mary Had a Little Lamb," "Leave My Girl Alone"); and particularly Jimi Hendrix ("Voodoo Chile (A Slight Return)," a 1981 version of "Manic Depression" and a phenomenal "Little Wing/Third Stone From the Sun" medley from the CBS Records Convention in Honolulu in 1984).
Vaughan's songwriting and his guitar tone and attack become more focused toward the end of his career, as documented by the live cuts of "Tightrope," "Crossfire" and others. The audio discs conclude with three cuts from Alpine Valley in East Troy, Wis., the next-to-last show of Vaughan's life, on Aug. 25, 1990. The video disc includes six solid performances from "Austin City Limits," tracks that were recorded in October 1989 but never broadcast. The set also includes a 72-page booklet with plenty of color photos and several essays on Vaughan's life in music, all packaged in a hardcover booklet.
SRV is a worthy tribute to Vaughan's brilliant, tragically short career and to his blues guitar legacy. It's absolutely recommended as a complement to the four studio recordings he made during his lifetime (Texas Flood, Couldn't Stand the Weather, Soul to Soul and In Step), his Family Style recording with brother Jimmie, and the posthumous The Sky Is Crying. — Bryan Powell