Throw Your Hands in the Air

Pazz & Jop handicappers often look to this prepoll CG for clues to previously ungraded finishers, and a few do sneak in below. Mostly, however, I've been coming to terms with the hip hop crop of late 2001, which caught Christmas sales and escaped the fair scrutiny of our oft unfunky electorate.

BASEMENT JAXX Rooty (Astralwerks)
I wish they'd hire human singers. Cyborgs can grate on the ears, and I bet they don't suck dick that good either. Still, no catchier collection of jingles has come to my attention since Steve Miller made his mint off jet airliners. So though I know it's dance music, that's not how I hear it. A*Teens my a-hole, this is the real Europop—such as it is. A MINUS

BRUN CAMPBELL Joplin's Disciple (Delmark)
The pianist-turned-barber was 14 when he turned pro in 1898, 24 when he quit the road, past 60 when he began recording. So since there's no sign that his modest chops deteriorated or his ham-fisted aesthetic developed, playing this record of classic Scott Joplin creations and ungainly Brun Campbell originals is like tossing a century of deodorized air out the window. Ragtime contemporaries unheard by me may have taken a more refined approach, but Campbell's ingrained indelicacy yanks the arty veil off the style. The only good pianist I know with a heavier touch is Jerry Lee Lewis, who has more rebop if less technique and should go into training for a rag album of his own. On a lovely and necessary 1998 tribute, Butch Thompson made a point of re-emphasizing Joplin's pulse. Campbell's left would KO Thompson before he'd finished flexing his fingers. A MINUS

FUGAZI The Argument (Dischord)
Shades of Gang of Four, Minutemen, Mission of Burma even, to update for appearance's sake, Dismemberment Plan, one of many bands Ian MacKaye hath wrought. Punk minimalism evolved into song forms that bifurcate like art-rock. Everybody hip to tempo shifts, rhythm changes. And on this album, finally, recording equal to the tough dynamics that keep Fugazi alive as much as its integrity and idealism. Political chamber music isn't what they envisioned. But it's what they've accomplished, and an accomplishment it is. B PLUS

GHOSTFACE KILLAH Bulletproof Wallets (Epic)
With the Wu so cash-poor it's concocting best-ofs from two-album catalogs, Ghostface remains rooted enough to rhyme as both Dennis Coles the insecure project kid and Tony Starks the tough guy with an eye. His high wail intimating banshee and crybaby, he tells a pathetic tale of small-time violence, lets sex get to him, and launches song-and-dance routines that bespeak his deep commitment to show business. Limited partner Raekwon pulls no more weight than the up-and-coming second-raters who provide alternative raps because this album is where Ghostface really steps up. Sure RZA's the man when he chips in, as in "Walking Through the Darkness" (ignore the booklet and go to track 11). But every beat belongs to the man with his name on the slug line, and that's all most of them need. A MINUS

ORCHESTRA BAOBAB Pirates Choice (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
Jazz, r&b, soul, disco, reggae—no African band has ever emulated a New World music as gracefully as this Cuban-style unit, the essence of snazz in '70s Dakar who became old hat when Youssou made his move. They've been my Afropop primer of choice in Puerto Rico for a decade, and this 1982 swan song is regarded as the best of their four estimable albums. It was never officially released here till now, and I used to find it too casual. But as the even more relaxed previously unreleased disc makes clear, getting in the mood is good for your blood supply. Baobab's taste in salsa was charanga in aura if not form, there's no Iberian schmaltz in their singers rough or smooth, and their horn section consists entirely of Issa Cissoko, a drolly doleful individualist whose tenor provided a foil for Barthelemy Attisso's bilingual guitar. A MINUS

ORCHÈSTRE VÉVÉ Vintage Verckys (RetroAfric import)
Saxophonist-careerist Kiamuangana Mateta, stage billing Verckys, could just see the guitars taking over O.K. Jazz as the '70s loomed, so he started a rival band to accommodate Franco's exiles. Verckys's soukous had a sweet tooth, with horn room in the sebenes. His tenor matched that of his garbled namesake King Curtis about as precisely as his sobriquet, and his sound was never as individual as Dudu Pukwana's or Issa Cissoko's. But wait till you hear him quack like a duck as he takes "Londende" home. A MINUS

Licensed from the Miami-based Kubaney label, this "taste of classic Latin flavors" barely dips into Nuyorican salsa, which eliminates a lot of distractions—star turns, crossover dreams, big-band penis envy, shows of force in which moonlighting jazz hotshots do their damnedest to play the same notes better than the guy in the next chair. Merengue mainstay Johnny Ventura is the big name, and his two tracks find him in a trad mood—he even offers up a guajira. With compiler John Armstrong keeping things subtle, trad comes naturally to such journeymen as Machito-Puente pianist Luis Varona, tres lifer Jorge Cabrera, Dominican speedster Pochy. Garnished just enough, clave is the main course. A MINUS

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