RECORDINGS

Alice Tatum
Piano
(TTC)

The only things missing from longtime Valley artist Alice Tatum's new CD are cocktails and cigarettes; Piano is an exercise in soft, spare, lounge-ready vocal gymnastics. The singer caresses 13 standards, accompanied only by the subtle keyboard work of locals Chuck Marohnic, Charles Lewis, Phil Strange, Kevin Stoller and Peter Zale. Tatum breaks no new ground here, choosing pleasant but predictable numbers ("Stormy Weather," "Am I Blue," "Cry Me a River") and relying on polish and professionalism to get them across. Too bad. Creating unique versions of these well-covered songs takes a gut-level emotion that Tatum never really works up to. But maybe that's intentional. As smooth mood music, Piano works quite well. Tatum revs things up a bit on the Fats Waller classic "Ain't Misbehavin'" and gets a tad overdramatic during "Send In the Clowns" (refer to the Sinatra version for the definitive reading), but the other cuts pretty much stay at a harmless simmer. Pass the Dubonnet.--

Various Artists
Creation's Journey: Native American Music
(Smithsonian Folkways)

Did you know that Native Americans from the Northern Plains sing their traditional songs in a higher voice than those of the Southern Plains? How about that "traditional" Native American music--to certain tribes in Nova Scotia--means the reworking of old Irish and Scottish jigs?

Little-known facts and big-time surprises come with almost every cut on Creation's Journey, an audio chronicle of Indian music put together by the Smithsonian Institution.

Southwestern tribal sounds are well-represented, first by a lone Navajo singer with drum accompaniment on a "two-step" titled "Inform Your Grandma." There's an equally austere number from a White Mountain Apache singer, as well as a long, ten-minute courtship dance from the Tewa-speaking Pueblo people in New Mexico.

But the more stunning cuts are from other points on the map. The Canadian-based Micmac musicians produce the sort of lively fiddle music you'd expect to find at an Irish pub. The Micmacs have worked their imported European hoe-down sounds so long, they consider them their own. Of similar note, and surprise, are the European Christian hymns sung in Cherokee by an Oklahoma group named the Kingfisher Trio. The Christianization of the Cherokee people began more than 150 years ago, so these songs, too, are now considered traditional Indian fare.

Creation's Journey doesn't always make for the easiest of listening; a couple of chaotic songs by a Bolivian tribe approach the audio equivalent of mayhem. But the disc definitely holds your attention. And the liner notes make it a boffo learning experience.--Ted Simons

Boxing Gandhis
Boxing Gandhis
(Mesa)

Boxing Gandhis is a feel-good group of semifunkers out of south central Los Angeles. Echoes of Sly, Bootsie and the Tower of Power horn section push the Gandhis' groove, which hits sharp and hard with the opening cut, "If You Love Me (Why Am I Dyin')?" Even better is the more round-shouldered funk on "For You Always," one of the CD's few slower-tempo tunes.

The Gandhis push an upbeat, positive outlook on their songs, which is nice enough in small doses, but the band's relentless happy-face agenda ultimately makes for negative results. We're repeatedly hammered with things like "impress yourself with your tolerance" and "express your rage with reason." Midway through the CD, with the band's soulful vocals imploring families to stick together and stay away from the "streets," you start wondering if you haven't blundered onto the music portion of a church outreach ministry. The Gandhis make their point best when they ask a tough question and let it linger. "Who comes first when your children are hungry/ . . . and your city's going up in flames around you?" That query, put forth on the song "1st," doesn't need any easy answers. And the Gandhis, for once, don't offer any.

More funk and less talk, please.--Ted Simons

John Adams
Harmonielehre
(EMI)

Bay Area composer John Adams is an old name to New Music watchers. He's most noted for his postminimalist works Nixon in China (1985) and The Death of Klinghoffer (1991), both of which have helped revive the wheezing art of opera, especially in America.

Harmonielehre is a sample tray of random Adams selections. Included is the light and airy "The Chairman Dances," a surreal companion piece to Nixon in China's more angst-driven final act. The CD also includes a couple of fanfares, the first, "Tromba Lontana," a hushed and muted piece, the second, "Short Ride in a Fast Machine," much busier and more typical of fanfare pep.

The City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, directed by noted conductor Simon Rattle, seems to have Adams figured out nicely. But figuring out Adams means allowing for a sense of stasis. Adams' music often seems to be in motion without moving anywhere. Sometimes, as on the third movement of the title piece, the dog paddle works. Other times it makes for a shallow listening experience--something a chronically postmodern artist like Adams may well consider high praise.--

Redman
Dare Iz a Darkside
(RAL)

Continuing his mission to flow raps from the heart, Redman represents clever hip-hop from the dark side. Spoken from the edge of a rough and tumble world, this CD radiates an underground pitch.

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