Extraordinary Machines

We didn't get what we wanted but we haven't entirely lost what we had

PICK HITS

THELONIOUS MONK QUARTET
Thelonious Monk Quartet With John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall (Blue Note)

Funny ha ha and funny peculiar, Monk's startling block chords, disdain for the romantic arpeggio, and flat-out genius have long rendered him rock's favorite jazz pianist, and the spiritual ambition of Coltrane's endless sheets of sound left a deeper impression on hippiedom and its musical aftermaths than any other jazz. Both musicians were at some kind of peak the night of this miraculously unearthed 1957 performance, and though Coltrane was playing Monk, not Coltrane, his longing to bust out just adds dynamic tension. It's humbling to realize that if someone with a decent tape machine had captured another 50 minutes of this band's music . . . well, it would have been looser, the multi-artist concert format of this gig does provide formal discipline. But discard the bass and drum solos and it could have been almost as remarkable, ad infinitum to a never-to-be-determined point of satiety. A


OUR NEW ORLEANS 2005
(Nonesuch)

Few in New Orleans foresaw the immensity of the flood that finally came, but most lived with the belief that sooner or later there'd be one, including the thousands of musicians employed by the city's tourist industry. History-hawking formalists as party-time pros, they generally found escapist denial more useful than existential courage in their line of work, and the likable Rounder charity comp A Celebration of New Orleans Music sums up how well they did and didn't entertain. These post-Katrina recordings are something else. Not all the artists transcend the pious traditionalism of their old city or their new label, but most arrive at a harder spiritual place. Dr. John's "World I Never Made" is his deepest track in decades. Irma Thomas's "Back Water Blues" is hers. Eddie Bo's "Saints" and John Brunious's "Do Y ou Know What It Means" are frail, felt, fun, and wrenching. Punctuating Wardell Quezergue's full-orchestra "What a Wonderful World" is a piano solo Allen Toussaint localizes down to "Tipitina and Me." And hovering over the close, scythe at the ready, is Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927," the flood tale annotator Nick Spitzer reports has been sung aloud at bars all over the state ever since it surfaced in 1972. A

FIONA APPLE
Extraordinary Machine
(Epic/Clean Slate)

Instead of delivering the music a sharp-tongued breakup record by an empowered young female would imply—if not folk-rock plain and simple, then emotional piano-woman pop—Apple adapts Broadway show tune to confessional mode. Although Mike Elizondo adds momentum, Jon Brion's colors still predominate, and the melodic and structural contours are all Apple's. Ira Gershwin she's not; Betty Comden she's not either. But she wouldn't be half as inspiring if they were what she was aiming for. A MINUS

CLAP YOUR HANDS SAY YEAH
(clapyourhandssayyeah.com)

Since the indie-rock story of the year has been compared to every vaguely appropriate band you can think of as well as some you can't and also Wilco, I'm not the first to say Feelies. But Feelies it is. What sticks out right off is a drive that can't be taught or approximated. They're on top of a drone that crests over atmospheric interludes and hooks-are-for-squares songwriting even though they're glorious twice—on "Over and Over Again (Lost and Found)," which gradually elaborates a beyond-trebly guitar?? figure that could easily be played on a triangle, and the climactic "Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood," which claims it's about child stars and is. It's also about Iraq. That's what indie obliqueness is for. A MINUS

JOHN COLTRANE
One Down, One Up: Live at the Half Note
(Impulse)

There's so much posthumous Coltrane I don't even want to hear it all. So I resisted this somewhat overpriced, somewhat underrecorded 87-minute double CD—until I played it a second time. The selling point is the title tune, at 27:40 the longest Coltrane solo on record even though it begins in the middle. It gets really good after bass and piano sit out so Coltrane and his friend Jones can bash and blow at each other undistracted. A MINUS

COMET GAIN
City Fallen Leaves
(Kill Rock Stars)

These Brits always had the right sound but never the right songs, and now they've probably found their jangle-punk tune sense too late. The title sums up an autumnal mood as unlikely to excite site-hopping hot-new-banders as the grim statistic that this is their seventh album. But as a 30-ish look back at a life untriumphant because you weren't quite talented enough, it's superb. The indie-rock scene anchors the details, but the story told by the pensive "Days I Forgot to Write Down" and the headlong "Just One More Summer Before I Go" are for anyone who didn't fucking get what they wanted and still fucking lost what they had. A MINUS

LADY SOVEREIGN
Vertically Challenged
(Chocolate Industries)

Horizontally challenged as well, both voicewise and beatwise. But grime minimalism suits the female register—voice and beats fit together nice and snug. And though her wisdom is hemmed in by her accent and the youth she puts on the auction block, this shorty has more cheek than Dizzy Gillespie, never mind Dizzee Rascal. A MINUS

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