The Other Lode

This sterility may be the result of elaborately arranged material: Timeless Tales is a record that succeeds because of the way the band interprets well-drafted blueprints. Maybe it's simply because a more eloquent ensemble (Brian Blade, Brad Mehldau, and Larry Grenadier) cut the disc. The studio take of Joni Mitchell's "I Had a King" teems with minute maneuvers--a hunt 'n' peck fantasia with a quicksilver flow. On stage its preciousness filled the air, as if the tune was played by instrumentalists, not improvisers.

That said, their discipline accommodated loads of robust ploys. Redman opened "Summertime" with a solo pronunciation that had enough overtones and dissonance to fit right in at Tonic or the Alterknit. And Hutchinson was sage in taking Goldberg to the wrong side of the tracks during a feisty "Love for Sale." With natural elocution and deep feel, Redman floats the thesis that jazz can be both esoteric and glib. On his fiercest nights he's made it so. But this show felt like it was sponsored by Rand McNally--somehow focus became a foe.--Jim Macnie

International Style

Mondo-hip Japanese minisongstress Kahimi Karie crossed her legs and leaned over the back of a center stage stool Saturday night at the Fez. To her left, mentor Momus--the Anglo Serge Gainsbourg of the Casio clubpop set--plinked and plonked and flipped the start switch on their shared computer. To her right was French Momus associate Gilles Weinzaepflen on second keyboard and lead cheekbones, who set the tone of the evening with an opening act involving spoken French vocals over deliberately twee preprogrammed accompaniment and much fine posturing. Karie addressed the audience in broken but engaging English. Then Momus questioned and cajoled his star. She argued back with an impishness that suggested this pupil-professor bickering happens all the time, while Weinzaepflen flashed silent, knowing grins between kissy faces. Although Momus characterized the banter as a "Sonny and Cher in the 21st century kind of thing," it was much more My Fair Lady.

Although she's an icon of retro-futurist chic back home, with a hit commercial, several CDs (sampled by a recent Minty Fresh U.S. compilation), and years-old ties to Japanese maestro idol Cornelius, last week's shows were her first performances ever, anywhere. Her voice high and breathy, Karie nevertheless radiates a sophisticate's cool that complicates her squeaks. Whether singing in English or French, she's removed from the language, estranged from the melancholy melodies by her childlike chirp even as she honors several cultures of oddball auteur songcraft. Referencing '60s shutterbug swinger David Hamilton, at least one song by the Fall, and her own cuteness ("It's so nice to be a beautiful girl," goes one song), Karie is too perverse to be anyone's puppet. "I am a kitten," she peeped in tandem with a chorus of analogue synth meows. Who could argue?--Barry Walters

Floppy Boot Camp

The rule is that you can either just call them Caroliner, or you can say Caroliner Rainbow and then add a whole lot of words. So: Caroliner Rainbow Starlight Balance Consumers Waving Necessary Ankles dolled up the Knitting Factory's stage in a delirious vision of playroom decor Sunday night, crisscrossed the place with enough black lights to give a bear sunburn, and tumbled themselves onto stage in bulbous head-to-toe costumes designed to make them look as nonhuman as possible. The San Francisco band's front man, keyboard masher, and only constant member, Grux, for instance, had a getup involving some kind of hypertrophied bull-demon Beanie Baby as a codpiece--at one point, he used its limbs for a spontaneous midsong puppet show.

Caroliner is deeply indebted to Captain Beefheart's revelation that as long as everybody knows what they're doing, regular meter and tonality are just frippery, and the band seemed to be more or less in control of its crumpled, tubercular grooves. The fact that Grux was gurgling and whinnying through a thick papier-mâché mask meant that not a single word was comprehensible, though of course comprehensibility is far from the point. A band that operates on logic this obscure (questions of the what-the-hell? variety tend to get answered with double-talk about a 19th-century singing bull), and whose visuals are as important as its sound, can smack a bit of an MFA thesis. But Caroliner's been at it for more than 10 years, and they're serious about their ridiculousness. During the encore, as the band bumped like a square-wheeled car, Grux ceremoniously unfolded a tall, decorated box, stuck it over his mask, picked up two enormous, equally decorated donut-shaped cutouts, and slowly spun them around his wrists. The crowd cheered: it was clearly some kind of climactic ritual, and it didn't matter that nobody knew what it meant.--Douglas Wolk

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