FRED ANDERSON & HAMID DRAKE
Back Together Again (Thrill Jockey)
Now just past his 75th birthday, AACM charter member Fred Anderson has remained an adventurous presence onstage, but that was hard to tell from his last two records, both recorded live for Delmark at his Velvet Lounge nightclub; the venerable saxman seemed to be in something of a holding pattern creatively. But on this new studio album--Anderson's first release on Thrill Jockey since the stellar Duets 2001 disc with Arkestra legend Robert Barry--drummer Hamid Drake helps set Anderson off and running again. On their first full-length recording together, the longtime friends and musical foils play to their respective strengths, with Anderson's big percussive horn and Drake's delicately melodic trap work complementing each other perfectly on the polyrhythms of "Leap Forward" and a Trane-flavored reworking of Anderson's "Black Woman." Initial pressings include a bonus disc with video footage from the sessions.
Life on the Fly (Drag City)
On her third solo album, former Scissor Girls and Bride of No No leader Azita Youssefi continues her exploration of 70s left-coast jazz pop. For the opener, "Wasn't in the Bargain," she slips right into the snarkily cerebral tone and Bard College phrasing made famous by Messrs. Becker and Fagen as guitarist Jeff Parker does his best Skunk Baxter imitation. Elsewhere, jittery brass parts bring an agitated feel to "Just Joker Blues" and "Miss Tony," while the twilight piano on "In the Vicinity" and the dolorous "Things Without Names" weaves a moody tapestry worthy of Carole King.
The Sprightly Sound of the New Normal (Mallard Pointe)
Downstate native and Chicago resident Mike Ritt has done time with largely unheralded locals like Peck of Snide and Shades of Al Davis, but as a student at Colorado College in the early 80s he played briefly in a Banana Splits-inspired outfit with Jim Sangster and Tad Hutchison, who'd go on to become the rhythm section for the Young Fresh Fellows and members of Seattle's power-pop mafia. Last year Ritt made a pilgrimage to the Emerald City, enlisting his old pals as well as the YFFs' Scott McCaughey and Chris Ballew of Presidents of the United States of America for a hit-and-run recording session. Credited to the New Normal, the resulting disc closely follows the example of McCaughey's work with the Fellows and the Minus 5, in both title and contents: messy garage ("Chez Me"), Rickenbacker jangle ("It's Our Time"), comedic Costello cribs ("We Are Carloadbuyers"), and rock-collector covers (Del Shannon's "Keep Searchin'"). The eight-song, 18-minute disc is available at mallardpointesoundrecordings.com.
Potholes in Our Molecules (Galapagos4)
Fighting on a front Martin Amis has ignored so far, Chicago MC Robust is engaged in his own war against cliche, turning hip-hop's wearier tropes inside out with a cranky wit first glimpsed on his 2001 self-release, Freelance Gynecologist. After a bunch of guest shots on other people's records, including Galapagos4 releases by Qwel and Meaty Ogre, he's now got his own new LP on G4. Meaty Ogre provides jazzy beats and fatback blues beds while Robust maintains the funny, tricky flow of his Gynecologist days, albeit with a slightly grimmer worldview ("Cowardly men with powers / Have devoured / The days of global innocence / Since Father Time left Mother Earth deflowered"). It's a bit hard to picture Robust crossing over just yet, but he's certainly qualified to be an underground hero.
Re*de*fine (J Records)
Home to neosoul divas like Alicia Keys and warhorses like Rod Stewart, Clive Davis's J label may initially seem an odd place for these local nu-metallers, but they've got a very Clive-like aptitude for the winning commercial formula: their second major-label effort picks up where 2001's Scars left off, with a leadoff track, "Pride," cast from the anthemic mold of their earlier radio hit "Halo." The band's most valuable asset, though, is Ryan McCombs's voice, which falls halfway between James Hetfield's growl and Layne Staley's yowl. Moving beyond the rote riffage of their last album with the funk-flavored title track and the raga motifs of "Deny Me," Re*de*fine succeeds often enough, despite the occasionally distracting sonic sheen applied by Disturbed producer Johnny K.
Conceived by trombonist Mike Hagedorn, the 4boxs CD-R series has yielded a handful of curious if not entirely successful jazz experiments. Past releases include discs by other Hagedorn-led ensembles, including the cut-and-paste combo 1,2,3,4 and the bop-metal-freakout project Typewash. The premise for the latest, Temeritorium, is simple: put four musicians of diverse backgrounds--Hagedorn, relatively mainstream reed player Jim Gailloreto, his frequent duo partner bassist Ken Haebich, and Cheer-Accident drummer Thymme Jones--in a room for an hour and record the results. The eight ensuing cuts of noisy swing improv (standouts include the smoky "Caesar in White" and the elastic "The Weatherman") have so much energy and brio that I hope they'll change their minds and continue this experiment after what they're calling a one-time-only live show Tuesday, April 6, at the Empty Bottle. The disc is available at 4boxs.com.
Claiming Aerosmith's "Draw the Line" and ZZ Top's "Waiting for the Bus" as touchstones, ex-Lustre King principals Mike Lust (vocals, guitar) and Jay Dandurand (drums), together with bassist Cale Arthur, summon sufficient cock-rock conviction to keep this five-song EP a level above ironic hipster homage. "Hash Sisters" is a pulse-quickening flurry of drawling riffs and clonking cowbell, and inspiration for the dirty grind of "Protection" clearly originated somewhere south of the belt buckle. Lust's skills as a front man have always translated better live than on record, but he gets this stuff where it needs to go. The Phantomz play a CD-release show Saturday, April 3, at the Hideout.
Last week I reported that eMusicLive had approached the Mekons during sound check at Maxwell's to propose recording that night's show. Actually the company made its pitch to the band's booking agent a week before the gig.