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November 26, 1998
CitySearch Music  
by Andrew Clevenger & Anicee Gaddis
  russell malone Russell Malone
"Sweet Georgia Peach"

In the jazz world, guitarists tend to get the short end of the stick. They are most often relegated to the role of perpetual sideman, forced to play rhythm behind chorus after chorus of someone else's solo. Very rarely do they get to step forward and lead a quartet, and even more infrequently do such projects produce satisfying results, as most listeners' ears (mine included) have been conditioned to gravitate toward ensembles with horns on the front line. Russell Malone's latest release, "Sweet Georgia Peach," goes a long way in remedying the situation. "Peach" has all the ingredients of a great jazz record: virtuoso playing, fluid group interaction, memorable originals, and insightful new renditions of material culled from the music's rich history. With its happy confluence of material and participants, "Peach" calls to mind the relaxed soulfulness of an early '60s Hank Mobley blowing session, which places it in very exclusive company. But most importantly, it features Russell Malone in the spotlight—given the chance to shine, he turns up the wattage, and his amp definitely goes to 11.

No, I'm not talking about volume, but about musicality. Malone can play fast and furious, as he does on "Mugshot," the blistering original that opens the album. On the title track, the guitarist dives headlong into the funky, bluesy riff that is equal parts Prince and BB King. Harmonic complexities don't seem to bother him, either, as he deftly negotiates Thelonious Monk's angular "Bright Mississippi." He can even fly solo, as he does on a surprisingly fresh reading of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot."

Of course, Malone has the incredible benefit of playing with bassist Ron Carter, pianist Kenny Barron, and drummer Lewis Nash—together the finest rhythm section working today, and I sincerely hope they continue to perform and record together as much as possible—with percussionist Steve Kroon rounding out the sound on two numbers. "Peach" was also produced by Tommy LiPuma, whose name in my mind has become synonymous with immaculate sound and top-caliber performances. This album is just as enticing and satisfying as its title suggests, the kind of soul food that is altogether too rare.—Andrew Clevenger


Russell Malone
"Sweet Georgia Peach"

"Sunday 8PM "

Joe Lovano
"Trio Fascination"

past reviews

faithless Faithless
"Sunday 8PM"

Picture a pastoral landscape (mountaintops, birdcalls, and the like) filtered through the ever-advancing genre of electronic-dub. Then add elegiac strings fluttering over solid beats, and you have the opening track of "Sunday 8PM"—the inspired sophomore album from the UK group, Faithless. The group's members—keyboardist Sister Bliss, rapper/MC Maxi Jazz, vocalist Jamie Catto, guitarist Dave Randall, and founder/programmer Rollo—seem to have modeled their neo-urban collective on such hybrid British sound systems as Massive Attack, Portishead, and maybe even Enigma. But because of the emphasis on an individualist sound within a group effort, the Faithless sound is hard to define. It skips through genres and their respective audiences—rhythm and blues, dance, pop, Eurodisco, and hip hop—with a certain breakneck fluidity or transparency, depending on the song. But an inspection of the group's roots (Sister Bliss and Rollo had a reputation as one of the hottest UK dance music remix/production duos long before the inception of Faithless) reveals a past steeped in dance music heritage.

The current single off of "Sunday 8PM" is "God Is a DJ"—in which Maxi Jazz declares God to be a DJ, and the church the ultimate dancefloor—might just be the golden nugget that turns this adored Brit band into a stateside phenomenon. With its gothic keys and "This is my church/this where I heal my hurts" refrain, the anthemesque dance tune has ridden high on both club sound systems and dance charts. "Sunday 8PM" is rife with other nice surprises—the Boy George cameo on "Why Go?," the intermittent gospel choruses and string section interludes, as well as riffs from guest guitarist and labelmate Dido (who has his own album coming out in the new year). Maxi Jazz's raspy, resonant voice often blends in like another instrument, though his worldly, somewhat sinister lyrics have a certain piercing capacity—"My world is everything I've become/contained in the hum between voice and drum/I'm comin' from the same place I'm still runnin' from/but even sitting in the garden one can still get stung" (from "Bring My Family Back"). Though once dubbed one of the world's worst rappers by the British magazine, Mixmag, he's learned to ignore aggressive typecasting and hone his individualistic skills.

Now that they're part of the Arista family (picked up by the label after their first album), Faithless has new choices to make. But unlike so many new groups these days, it seems they may actually have enough talent and vision to continue to make their own decisions, both sonic and otherwise. —Anicee Gaddis

Joe Lovano
"Trio Fascination"
(Blue Note)

If Joe Lovano were a baseball player instead of a jazzman, Mayor Giuliani would have to give him a ticker-tape parade down Broadway every time he released an album, because, like McGwire and Sosa, the home runs just keep coming. On his latest release, "Trio Fascination," the big tenorman goes deep yet again. If he keeps this up, Cooperstown is going to want his saxophone.

Well, perhaps I exaggerate (or at least beat a lame sports metaphor to death) but "Trio Fascination" is a thrilling trinity, an exploration of the magic number three. It makes sense—his last album, "Flying Colors," was a duo recording with Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba. On this outing, Lovano forgoes the piano altogether, opting instead for the more unorthodox lineup of saxophone, drums, and bass. As a result, there is lots of space for him to work with, and, not surprisingly, he makes the most of it, as do bassist Dave Holland and drummer Elvin Jones.

Both Holland and Jones made names for themselves playing alongside giants (Miles Davis and John Coltrane, respectively), and consequently, neither has any trouble keeping up with Lovano. Holland's playing has always been rock-solid and impeccably tasteful, and he continues mining this rich vein. Behind the kit, Jones tends to be more of a force of nature than a drummer—and I mean that in the best possible sense—but his playing here is subdued, more expansive than explosive, like the gathering of clouds rather than a downpour and the results are electrifying.

Lovano's playing (on a variety of horns, including tenor, soprano, and straight alto saxophone and alto clarinet) is magnificent throughout—from the honks, bleats, and squeals of "New York Fascination" to the long, fluid runs of "Villa Paradiso." On "Eternal Joy," he takes a simple four-note riff and pushes it to its not-so logical conclusion. Nine of the ten tracks are originals, the sole standard being "Ghost of a Chance," on which Lovano perfectly captures the ephemeral essence of the song by hinting at the melody in whispers and murmurs.

"Trio Fascination" is the kind of record that turns fans into devotees, and audiences into cult followings—which can be a dangerous thing, especially for musicians unprepared for such adoration. Fortunately, Lovano's incredible talents are already a well-known quantity, and he has firmly established his place in the pantheon without succumbing to the "living legend" cliche. If "Trio Fascination" had been thrust upon us unawares, we would have all been blown out of the ballpark. —Andrew Clevenger

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