Shuffering and Shmiling

Fela Kuti
Confusion/Gentleman (MCA)

At 25:36, the 1974 "Confusion" is one Fela song/track/album it would be a waste to edit—from free-form intro to multiple solos to Tony Allen's one-man polyrhythms, it's the proof of Africa 70's presumptive funk. The horn work introducing "Gentleman," omitted from the Best Best version, embodies the contradictions of that song's anti-European message. Two eight-minute Africanisms carry the package off into the bush. A MINUS

Fela Kuti
Original Suffer Head/I.T.T.(MCA)
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Emerging from a groove that maintains, the find is the sole non-title cut. Called "Power Show," it's nothing of the sort. It may not be thoughtful—Fela always reacted more than he reflected. But the laid-back bpms and sour sax make thinking sound like a good thing. B PLUS

Puerto Rico (Putumayo World Music)
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These earnest craftspeople you never heard of feed off and into a folkloricismo of uncommon naturalness and grace—fueled by a Third World economy with loads of loose money in it, and lubricated by ease of movement between two different worlds. Too hip to the States to mess up their cultural pride with xenophobia, on good terms with the commercial danceability of their salsa-pumping Nuyorican cousins, they choose to serve the bomba of the black settlements, the plena of Ponce, the seis of the mountainous center. Although these tracks abound in indigenous percussion and don't shun horns or pianos, their defining sound is the lilt of the 10-stringcuatro—rural yet sophisticated, romantic with a beat. Would that preservationists in Cuba and West Africa could float such a utopian groove. A MINUS

Tropicália Essentials (Hip-O)
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Relics of a cultural revolution—14 1967-1969 songs, all except the Tom Zé written by Caetano Veloso or/and Gilberto Gil and most performed by them. Although these songs outraged their world merely because they weren't Brazilian enough, what's striking at this distance is the Brit specifics of their internationalism, idealizing not the hippie '60s of spaced-out pastoral but the mod '60s of trippy pop. For all the deep rhythms and avant-garde sounds, the guitars are drunk on Revolver and Out of Our Heads, the orchestrations full of Blow-Up and Modesty Blaise. Decades later, we can hear how Brazilian their cheese and lyricism remained. But these particular Brazilians were the premier melodists of their generation, and they considered it especially trippy to juxtapose bright, rebellious music against grim antijunta fables. Translations provided—read them. A MINUS

Pick Hits

James Carter
Layin' in the Cut (Atlantic)
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Never fear—the most gifted and broad-minded young jazzman on the set hasn't succumbed to the dreaded amplifier. Hooking up with Ornette bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma, Blood drummer G. Calvin Weston, heavy guitarist Jef Lee Johnson, and fleet guitarist Marc Ribot is just a way for him to make another record without his touring band, write heads while nobody's looking, pay respects to a strain straighter coreligionists disdain, and prove he can rock a little, quite possibly while finishing the crossword. Not that there's anything distracted or desultory about this funk, this blues, this Latin, this harmolodic fusion, this free jazz. But he sure does make them seem second nature. A

Fela Kuti
The Best Best of Fela Kuti (MCA)
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There is one true Fela experience, and that experience is long. L-o-n-g. Unless qawwali counts, no one in pop has ever gone on so unceasingly for so long. Even Phish and such mix in song-type fragments to give folks a rest. Fela's practice was to release 30-minute albums with two cuts on them, or to dispense with this formality and designate the sides parts one and two. As a result, this 158-minute double-CD comprises all of 13 titles. But of these, more than half are edited or cut unceremoniously in half, which is great, because long can wear out fast. Most Fela albums, including the 20 MCA has arrayed across an overdue reissue blitz of 10 CDs that pass by such renowned releases as Zombie, Black President, and Army Arrangement, are listenable enough. Few, however, are the knockout punches his notices lead thrill seekers to expect—their attractions are more unfocused than an artist so militant requires. Here that's not a problem. Long though they still are, all are marked by top-notch tirades, explosive horn blasts, riffs he'll never improve no matter how often he tries. Certainly some original albums are of a quality that renders the usual duplication caveats moot. But this is the one you need, a masterful piece of compilation for an artist who deserves the best. A

Dud of the Month

Faith Hill
Breathe (Warner Bros.)
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Hill's Shania move comes down so far on the wrong side of Bryan Adams it's a wonder she doesn't pop out of her fancy black lingerie—great color choice, gal, no grass stains. Back in the boudoir, she poses for photos, then carefully removes said lingerie so as to "make love all night long." As the drums wham-bam her promises home, the guitars make noise without having any fun. How poetic. How precisely what Tim McGraw deserves. C PLUS

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