Fitzgerald wrote that there are no second acts in American lives. Regrettably, he did not live to witness neosoul singer and spoken-word artist Jill Scott follow hip-hop crew the Spooks on a bill that also featured cerebral MC Common. Scott gave the SRO Hammerstein crowd a guided tour through her love suite: romantic (“It’s Love”), unrequited (“Love Rain”), and every sentiment in between. Her instrument was equal parts operatic and sotto voce, with shadings of Phyllis Hyman and Pirates-era Rickie Lee Jones. Ironically, Scott’s debut disc, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1, sometimes sounds like decaffeinated jazz and merely hints at her gorgonizing live performances.
Common suffers from the obverse—his scintillating wordplay is best experienced on CD, though 60 Minutes commentator Ed Bradley strummed an air guitar next to me and swore, “Common speaks to me, and I’m 59.” Reverential, Common took the audience on an odyssey—matching outfits included—through JB’s soul, Parliament’s funk, and hip-hop’s preschool. But on joints like “Cold Blooded,” Common and his band vied for preeminence, and negated one another. And even as he dropped his underground anthem, “I Used to Love H.E.R.,” all I wondered was: Is this crowd really downwind of the wisdom he’s spitting? The Roots’ ?uestlove executive-produced Common’s latest CD, Like Water For Chocolate; you might think Common’s reading magic realist novels. But ever the Big Punster, Common’s water comes from a fountain and the chocolate is his people: Can you say segregation?
With Jill performing, this could have been a largely Illadelphia evening, but they added Brooklyn’s Spooks, who were inaudible and ungainly. Aside from their side-splitting Jeffersons parody and cherubic-voiced singer, they could have sat by, or taken tickets at, the door. —David Mills
Anyone who uses “truth” and “deconstruction” in the same breath must be making some kind of joke. A French school of thought imported to American English departments in the 1970s, deconstruction supplanted concepts like “truth” with “signifiers” and “signs.” Yet when a festival called “The Truths of Deconstruction” opened last Thursday at Tonic, not only were there no signs of such truths (or truths of such signs), there wasn’t even a palpable punchline. Founding doyen Jacques Derrida certainly could have provided one. He was a block away, lecturing at the Orensanz Foundation, before the show began, but he never made it to the club, where John Zorn’s Cobra opened a “Derrida Special,” premiering a piece titled “Cobra + n (aural-oral deconstruction).”
Deconstruction was never intended as a way of doing music (or poetry or anything else), but as a method for critiquing it; the word has become shorthand for everything from “destroy” and “read closely” to, in Zorn’s case, play as loudly and discordantly as possible, with trombone wah-wahs, Rush-like drumrolls, and Marc Ribot’s guitar-god histrionics. It’s hard to know what’s being deconstructed, though. It wouldn’t be very deconstructionist of Zorn to claim there is a stable category of music itself, would it?
The most successful musical deconstructions have never been labeled as such: Charlie Parker transfiguring “How High the Moon” into “Ornithology,” John Coltrane stretching crumpled sheets out of “My Favorite Things,” even Zorn’s own plundering of klezmer with Ornette Coleman’s vocabulary. While Zorn has claimed artists from Walter Benjamin to Burt Bacharach as part of his “Radical Jewish Culture” movement, I wonder if Derrida would make the cut, considering the revelations of hermeneutical-mafia co-don Paul de Man’s collaborationist journalism. Because of that baggage, deconstruction went out of vogue over a decade ago. Zorn may have believed that he was latching on to a hot academic trend, but that would be a misreading. —David Yaffe
Frankie Crocker, 1937-2000
Long before the morning-show “shock jock” gig became the most lucrative position in commercial radio, the role of a top-ranking DJ had much more dignified and socially responsible connotations. This was particularly true within the black American community, where access to public airwaves became part and parcel of the civil rights struggle.
That is why we mourn Frankie Crocker. The loss of this tristate-area legend, who died of pancreatic cancer on October 21, underscored the passing of a creative attitude toward radio programming that the current state of the industry renders impossible. Crocker came into his own during the 1970s as the afternoon host and program director of black-owned WBLS-FM. Determined to make WBLS the top-rated station in New York, Crocker rotated a mix of cutting-edge r&b, Latin, rock, and pop music that appealed to black, Latino, and white listeners—proving crossover listenership was the only way advertisers could be persuaded to pay (almost) equally high rates to black stations as to white. Once WBLS started topping listener polls under Crocker’s guidance, Top 40 stations began trying to copy its success; the musical mix first tagged “urban contemporary,” then CHR, and now Churban, thus became a leading national format.
Frankie was working for WKRS at the time of his death, but his input there never matched that of his WBLS heyday. Crocker’s boldness through the late ’70s and ’80s in showcasing rock acts like Devo, Blondie, Bowie, and the Clash alongside breaking hits by Luther Vandross, Steel Pulse, the Furious Five, Wayne Shorter, and Gato Barbieri reflected a commitment to quality that refused to be limited by the prevailing racial, socioeconomic, or cultural stereotypes of the day. —Carol Cooper