JOHN SINCLAIR & his blues scholars 6/4-6, HEARTLAND CAFE Jazz poetry gets maligned from both sides: lots of jazz fans think the words are gratuitous, and lots of poetry fans don't understand what all the honking and squeaking is for. John Sinclair, the New Orleans-based jazz poet who's still most famous for his stint as the MC5's beleaguered manager and chairman of the White Panther Party, has at times done little to remedy the problem: on his 1996 collaboration with former MC5 guitarist Wayne Kramer, Full Circle, Kramer is in fine dirty-blues form, but the extra competition causes Sinclair to stiffen up on the delivery of even the witty, moving moments of his stentorian music-history diatribes. A slightly earlier record with his regular band, Full Moon Night (both albums are available through Alive!), comes closer to the mark: the versatile Blues Scholars manage to be both passionate and sympathetic, and while Sinclair's incantatory, upward-straining style is by now overly familiar to anyone who's heard much postbeat performance poetry, his declarations of allegiance to the music's rhythms and shifting stances sound more intuitive and less forced. DARKTOWN HOUSE BAND 6/6, SCHUBAS This six-piece combo from Omaha, which claims to bring "about 25 different instruments" to every show, displays all the best and worst tendencies of a generation raised on Swordfishtrombones, spilling blood from postmodernism's arrhythmic heart all over the mordant "roots" music on its fifth album, Hot Tongue and Cold Shoulder (Veni Vidi Vici). Almost everybody's roots come into play: there's early jazz, cabaret, honky-tonk, blues, hillbilly music, Gypsy music, and probably more. Whether this band can avoid the musty preciousness that sometimes plagues our own comparable (though slimmer) outfit Devil in a Woodpile live remains to be seen. YAT-KHA 6/6, OLD TOWN SCHOOL and TOWER RECORDS on clark The polyphonic throat singing, whistling, fiddle drones, and goatskin drumbeats of Tuvan folk groups like Huun-Huur-Tu, meant to evoke the sounds nomadic herders hear in the alpine meadows near northern Mongolia, can sound pretty alien to Western ears. But to that unearthly mix Yat-Kha--a modern Tuvan trio led by multi-instrumentalist Albert Kuvezin, who's both sung with Huun-Huur-Tu and jammed with Sting--carefully adds English folk-rock guitar, spare but decidedly Western percussion (courtesy of Waco Brother Steve Goulding and Shriekback's Martyn Barker), and production values (courtesy ex-Damned and PIL guitarist and sometime Mekon Lu Edmonds) that would make Joe Boyd blush. Maybe not so surprisingly, it really works: a lot of glossy world-pop fusions do justice to neither source, but on Yat-Kha's new Dalai Beldiri (Wicklow/BMG), the Western elements take a decidedly servile role, playing reassuring anchor to the gorgeous outlander sounds. A-Z CONSOLIDATED 6/7, EMPTY BOTTLE The tape this local quartet sent me (a preview from a forthcoming CD) grabbed me at the start with "Those Things," a long tune that sounded like the intro to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" stretched out into that garage-minimalism trance stuff I'm such a sucker for. The rest of the demo is promising too: intersecting lines of dissonant guitar and violin, busy unpredictable bass lines, good-wind-on-the-ocean rolls. The lo-fi ballad "Come & Go," with violinist Suzanne Roberts (also of the Chicago Civic Orchestra) on vocals, gets a little soggy, but all in all I'm a lot less terrified by guitarist and bassist Dan and Rob Sullivan's claim that they're working on a rock arrangement of Stravinsky's Rite of Spring with Cheer-Accident's Dylan Posa than I was before I listened to the tape. FLORALINE 6/7, LOUNGE AX On this Atlanta quintet's eponymously titled debut, I'm hearing a lot of Berlin--the band, not the city. Shameless disco-tinged synth pop...sigh. I knew I was going to have to dig those neon geometric earrings out from under my parents' couch one of these days. ELENI MANDELL 6/9, SCHUBAS For the past five or six years, out in LA and under the wing of Tom Waits crony Chuck E. Weiss, Mandell's been honing a pomo blues groove that sounds like Polly Jean Harvey expelled from the angelic choir and forced to sing in Holiday Inn lounges. The clanky complexity of the arrangements on her debut, Wishbone (Mr. Charles), does indeed sometimes mildly evoke Waits, but her husky howl steamrolls superficial comparisons. I'd say more power to her, but she doesn't need any more. --Monica Kendrick
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Autumn DeWilde.