Recordings

Silly Rabbit
Dust
(Orphan Boy)

The experimental rockers in Silly Rabbit make it one of the most danceable groups to emerge from Seattle's postgrunge wasteland. This eight-piece urban groove machine consists of guitars, sequencers, an unstoppable rhythm section and something called a psychedelic illuminator (an elaborate, lighting-video rig designed to create a rave atmosphere at live performances). Add to that ensemble another nine musicians who contribute jazzy percussion, flutes and a cello and you have a group whose avowed goal is to become "the Pink Floyd of the Nineties."

More like the Spearhead of Seattle.
In actuality, Silly Rabbit is less a band than a mob of musical contributors all coming together with slightly different ideas about what makes a song go "Ungh!" Some of the members apparently spent their allowance on Beastie Boys records, while others kicked back with old P-Funk 45s. It's the tech heads tossing samples around, though, who prevent Rabbit from lapsing into Chili Pepper-wannabe mode.

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Bandleader and vocalist Anthony Russell claims Silly Rabbit's music reaches new dialectical heights by blending the synth-machinery of dance music with the human groove of live drummers and guitarists. The band tries to reflect "the human spirit right now"--half slave, half master to the computers that increasingly mediate reality.

Russell's theories, while elaborate and superficially interesting in a neo-Luddite kind of way, take a back seat to an ass-shaking assortment of funkedelic rock. Case in point: "On and On," with its killer, two-chord intro blazing away over a sample of something that sounds like a back-masked bagpipe flanged with reverb. Russell's vocals punch through a beat whose energy is tempered with ambient washes most often associated with trance music. The dynamic interplay between genres results in a blissful earful where all the pieces somehow fit.

"Forty Little Kings," on the other hand, slinks along casually with funk-metal guitar and bassy rumble, posing existential questions inspired by a group of drunks in the gutter. Meanwhile, "The Tempest of Sense and Intellect" deconstructs the cradle of grunge with its smooth, sonic cocktail mixing peculiar movie samples, sultry female back-up singing, and Eric B. and Rakim patter.

It's remarkable how well the band moves unpretentiously from hard-edged funk to ethereal flute solos fluttering over trippy loops (Is that a sheep I hear?). Blending musical genres is nothing new or particularly daring from a postmodern perspective. But taking jazz, funk, hip-hop, ambient and trance elements and creating something this listenable require the crazy skills. And to produce an entire album of head-bobbing, body-slamming grind requires talent, tact and just the sort of luck that only a snippet of George Clinton's flipped-out wig can bring.--Matt Golosinski

Nino Rota
La Strada Ballet Suite
(Sony Classical)

Cable penetration can be a wonderful thing. Recent showings of Fellini films on the Bravo channel included an airing of LaStrada, the bittersweet masterpiece that won a Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1954. Longtime Fellini cohort Nino Rota, who wrote the film's score, was later inspired to write a ballet based on the movie and turned out a taut piece of classical music, at turns nervy and sentimental. It's a memorable work made even more compelling on this recent rendition by celebrated conductor Riccardo Muti and Italy's Orchestra Filarmonica della Scala.

Highlights include the Ballet Suite's fourth movement, an intense, string-heavy swirl that starts off with the stridency of Bernard Herrmann's more psychotic Psycho numbers, then gives way to huge melodies intercut by quiet, tense interludes. The movement is supposed to represent the rage of Zampan, the brutish circus muscleman played in the film by Anthony Quinn. It works, though some of the music's more grandiose gestures threaten to spill over the top (the cymbal crashes, especially, are a bit much). Still, it's hard to nit-pick with those melodies sweeping things along.

The suite's other magic moment is the sixth movement. This time the mood starts off placid to the point of pastoral. But the energy slowly builds to a rousing finish as Rota depicts the Chaplinesque heroine in the film (played by Fellini's wife, Giulietta Masina) finally making the decision to leave the abusive Zampanu, with whom she's reluctantly taken up.

La Strada includes other classical works by Rota as well, including the "Concerto for Strings," which alternates between light and edgy musings. There's also a collection of dance music Rota penned for the 1963 film IlGattopardo (The Leopard), by director Luchino Visconti. Rota had to come up with late-19th-century-sounding music for an extended scene involving a party and lots of dancing. The results range from happy, peppy polkas to the kind of airy melodies that bring to mind busy background music in the old Dennis the Menace or Leave It to Beaver TVshows.

In other words, great stuff.
Indeed, two of the most attractive things about Rota's music are its accessibility and economy. The quick, easy melodies may leave an unpleasant aftertaste with classical "poofs" more concerned with experimental and "difficult" works, but there's nothing on this disc that would turn away a listener looking for picturesque sounds in an orchestral setting.--Ted Simons

Various artists
The American Fogies, Vol. I
(Rounder)

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