Consumer Guide

LEON PARKER: Belief (Columbia) A jazz record, indisputably--an acoustic jazz record. But Parker's commitment to minimal means, catchy tunes, up-front beats, and internationalist percussion suits the soundscape mindset--if anything, ambient wonks may find his structures too clear, his melodies too direct. Moreover, his second album accomplishes these modest but elusive goals so fully that seekers will be compelled to interface with the music as well as the ideas. Which is one idea that's almost always a keeper. A MINUS

PHISH: Slip Stitch and Pass (Elektra) Kinda restores your faith in humanity for these guys to make like they know the difference between intelligent and pretentious. Page McConnell plays blues, Trey Anastasio plays Jerry, and David Byrne, ZZ Top, and the 19th-century team of Joe Howard and Ida Emerson beef up the fey songwriting. Plus you have to love their long overdue Doors interpolation: ''Mother...I want to cook you breakfast.'' B PLUS

SPRING HEEL JACK: Busy Curious Thirsty (Island) What direct connection John Coxon and Ashley Wales retain to dance music is as obscure to me as their precise relationship to contemporary composition. But they mine both modes productively enough to cover over the pitfalls that are always tripping up nonbelievers. I love the way ''Galapagos 3'''s slowly accreted minimalist detail is blown away by a brief blast of ersatz symphony, the way ''The Wrong Guide'' opens up a piece of small-group jazz for simulated drums and simulated...bassoon (?) to (simulated) pizzicato percussion, soundtrack orchestra, and anti-aircraft artillery--all of which continue the improvisation for a while. They're visceral where composition is cerebral and ambient is unmoored. They never fall for rock-techno's arena-scale gestures or art-techno's fatal conflation of thinking and mooning about. If any competitors out there can make such claims, their identities are obscure indeed. A

THOMAS JEFFERSON SLAVE APARTMENTS: Straight to Video (Anyway) Ron House makes the sex life of an aging punk in an overgrown college town sound active, raunchy, and not without spiritual rewards--in addition to the professional shank shaker and the prostitute with her leg half chewed off, he fucks several women with truly enormous libraries. He also bids an unsentimental farewell to Lester Bangs and complains about the age of the spectacle. A MINUS

THOMPSON & THOMPSON: Industry (Rykodisc) The second Thompson is bassist Danny, the instrumental interludes of whose North of England jazz-march unit Whatever set off Richard's six songs in the manner of Charlie Haden or Kurt Weill--with music that intensifies meaning as well as sustaining mood. The songs themselves, all of which attend closely to the title concept, were researched in dying coal mines and the Karl Marx library, among other places, and let's hope they convince Richard that art is 90 per cent perspiration. It does him a world of good to get out of himself. A MINUS

TOWNSHIP JAZZ 'N' JIVE (Music Club) Before mbaqanga's stomping bumpkin intensity swept the townships, small jazz-style ensembles played indigenous tunes with a South African beat you could jitterbug to. This is that music, the same urbane mode cherry-picked so infectiously on the Mandela soundtrack: the swinging jive of the '50s, when social dancing was a passion in every slapped-together apartheid ghetto. Far suaver than mbaqanga or kwela yet no less African, far simpler than Count Basie or the Mills Brothers yet no less artful, it implied an indoor space even if it couldn't always find one big enough for its spiritual ambitions. Its matchless buoyancy is mostly a matter of two learned rhythms coming together. But it evinces an unsinkability nobody would ever puncture. A

DUD OF THE MONTH:

EN VOGUE: EV3 (EastWest) Sylvia Rhone isn't going to pull the plug on her copyright just because Dawn Robinson has decided she's the reason for her own success. So with yeomanlike help from Babyface, the label has laboriously extracted a hit and some platinum from Rhone's three remaining charges as they strain for soul and funk as stagily and dutifully as the fabricated bevy of talent-hunt beauties they've always been. Sole exception: the Robinson-led Set It Off smash ''Don't Let Go (Love).'' There's a lesson in that, right? Only what will that lesson be when Robinson's debut does the dog? B MINUS

Additional Consumer News

HONORABLE MENTION:

Clay Harper, East of Easter (Casino Music): ex-Coolie meets Wreckless Eric in totally improbable guitar-organ garage (''The Next Contestant,'' ''Health Food and Homicide,'' ''Airport Holiday Inn''); Jimmy King, Soldier for the Blues (Bullseye Blues): Cray's best in half a decade (''Living in the Danger Zone,'' ''Drawers''); Oranj Symphonette, Plays Mancini (Gramavision): reconstructing kitsch for the music of it (''Moon River,'' ''A Shot in the Dark''); Spanish Fly, Fly by Night (Accurate): trumpet-tuba-guitar-(drums) improvise ballet score and other variations on ''My Bonnie'' (''Movement 3: Sisters,'' ''Movement 5: End of the Night''); Dave Soldier, The Kropotkins (Koch): postmodern preblues (''Good Cheap Transportation,'' ''Cold Wet Steel''); Coolio, My Soul (Tommy Boy): voice of reason (''C U When U Get There,'' ''Homeboy''); Khaled, Sahra (Island): panpop move (''Lillah,'' ''Detni Essekra''); Marlee MacLeod, Vertigo (TRG): I don't know how or why (although she was a rock critic once), but this practical independent's cadences eerily evoke those of...Trotsky Icepick? (''Me and Shelley Winters,'' ''Mata Hari Dress''); the Rolling Stones, Bridges to Babylon (Virgin): still know how to construct, play, and--sometimes--sing a song (''You Don't Have To Mean It,'' ''Flip the Switch''); Dr. John, Trippin' Live (Surefire): for James Booker and Roy Byrd (''Tipitina,'' ''Kin Folk''); Patti Smith, Peace and Noise (Arista): good thing she's still a little nuts, because funny's beyond or beneath her (''Whirl Away,'' ''Memento Mori''); Aaron Tippin, Greatest Hits...and Then Some (RCA): as prole as Music Row gets (''Ain't Nothing Wrong With the Radio,'' ''Cold Gray Kentucky Morning'').

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