Who Needs Boxes?

The very best of the year's best-ofs for your economical holiday-gift-giving convenience

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DE LA SOUL
Timeless: The Singles Collection
Tommy Boy/Rhino

Right, their albums are worth owning, so if you've collected them all, rip the track sequence off Amazon and burn yourself a present. But the explanations and booklet pix will soften up the rap haters on your list, who'll thank you for proving once and for all that skewed rhythms can be humane even when singers don't validate them and "live" musicians don't play them. These focus cuts add tunelet and dancebeat to a quirky, homemade funk lite that never partook of the lounge or the suave sex the lounge implies, and manifest the rhythmic uses of spoken words for guys no one would mistake for orators, romeos, or thugs. Prince Paul taught them that any piece of music was a beat in potentia. Dry, droll, and tender they were on their own—intelligent too, as befits learners for life. Inspirational Sample: "Oh the big dic-dictionary/Is very necessary." A PLUS


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POSTWAR JAZZ: AN ARBITRARY ROADMAP
(no label/Weatherbird)

Gary Giddins Jazz, I call it. Not officially for sale and never will be, permissions being the slough of greed, vanity, and indifference they are. But available on the Net to those as know how, I am assured by one of the two nuts of my acquaintance who copied, borrowed, ripped, and otherwise purloined a six-CDR set comprising the 1945-2001 choice cuts our greatest jazz critic annotated for the June 11, 2002, Voice. Beyond the cross-generational ecumenicism Giddins champions—the assumption that jazz musicians are artists for life, so that a supernally lucid summation by 78-year-old Benny Carter takes the 1985 prize—is a music in which intellection harnesses energy and feeling and rides them hard toward the horizon. The selections are sometimes too avant for my tastes, and insufficiently electric (Craig Harris over Blood Ulmer in 1983?!); I wouldn't agree they're all "great records." But the vast majority come close enough. Among the artists I'd never have believed could dazzle me like this are Art Pepper, Gil Evans, Tommy Flanagan, Stan Getz, George Russell, and, I admit it, Sarah Vaughan. Why had I barely heard of Sonny Criss? How the fuck did I miss "Little Rootie Tootie"? A PLUS


KING SUNNY ADE
King of Juju
Wrasse import

Of the '82-'83-'84 Island LPs that inspired Ade's dreams of international stardom, Juju Music was a fluently constructed ethnopop sampler, Synchro Systema fully integrated Martin Meissonnier album. Here both are seamlessly patched together with two Nigeria-only tracks, a Manu Dibango curtain call, and the Stevie Wonder cameo from Ade's final and best Chris Blackwell project, Aura. Better Sunny's synths than Salif Keita's, and he's never made warmer or hotter records—loaded with fun sounds and Lagos themes, deeper on body bass than talky drum. Only those who own the originals on CD should pass up this recapitulation. A


BAD BRAINS
Banned in D.C.: Bad Brains Greatest Riffs
Caroline

As hardcore fans have always known, they were as historic a band as Fugazi or Black Flag. And as the subtitle knows, they weren't about songwriting—this was a band band, one of the few with the talent, experience, discipline, and love to bend master chops to a downpressed style. There are no weak links or even unequal partners. Sure H.R. and Dr. Know got the attention, but skank scholar Darryl Jenifer and power polymath Earl Hudson stand just as proud. From this seminal unit proceed both Living Colour and Limp Bizkit—every metallurgist who saw that guitar heroism had to get faster and funkier. A great sound—and a lyric sheet you'll need. A


THE BEST THERE EVER WAS
Yazoo

Between conglomerates milking catalog and collectors tailgating hype, I don't know how many multi-artist blues CDs I've gone through in an absurdly oversold year. Not counting Clint Eastwood's piano comp, this purist entry from a label that scoffs at both musical consistency and proprietary propriety is the only one I've wanted to hear again. This may be because I've never paid country blues due respect, so that the three artists I've long treasured—John Hurt, Skip James, and Blind Willie Johnson—provide a launching pad into the more-difficult-than-advertised pleasures of Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Blake, and Charlie Patton himself. But it's also because the right songs by these artists hang together sonically—their strong tunes and distinct voices transcend regional disparity, as varied as the hit parade. And it's also because such minor legends as Geechie Wiley, Frank Stokes, King Solomon Hill, Robert Wilkins, and Garfield Akers score one-shots no matter what else they've got in their kits. A


ELLA FITZGERALD
The Best of the Concert Years
Pablo

With minor exceptions not named Cassandra or Sarah (or Carmen or Betty), I find just two jazz singers of consistent interest as melodic improvisers and sonic producers. Ella did sink to shtick on the four albums boiled down here, but on this selection the live format turns a pop interpreter into a jazz musician. She's 54 on the first two tracks and 35 on the next six with little change in clarity or sprightliness. But by the last five, when she's 65, her voice has thickened drastically, and to compensate she overdoes it like her lessers—flatting lines, distorting words, laying on gutturals and vibrato. Listen three times and you'll hang on every phrase. A

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