Friday, November 7, 2008

What Are You Listening To Lately (Part 5)?

See older posts for description of this regular column.

Orchestra BaobabMade in Dakar
The title really says it all – while they still show influence from all over Africa, the Caribbean, and beyond, this record more than any other I’ve heard by them subsumes those influences into a sound that’s straight out of Senegal, paying respect to the dominant mbalax style of Senegalese music even if it’s not the only sound you hear. About half the songs date to the 70’s or earlier – updating traditional songs and older pop music is one of the hallmarks of Orchestra Baobab’s style – but if you didn’t grow up with them you’ve never guess the vintage of these tunes simply by listening. Nor would you be able to guess from the energy level here that many of these players had been at it for nearly 40 years as Orchestra Baobab – but you could guess from the easy rapport they have with each other. At times it’s like the songs are merely an extended sequence of conversations on different subjects (lyric trots in English provided in liner notes). Especially notable are the (instrumental – in both senses of the word) voices of Issa Cissoko on saxophone and bandleader Barthelemy Attisso on guitar – these two have always taken the lead roles in the music of Baobab over the years and their camaraderie here characterizes the learned, laid-back feel that’s still charged with energy throughout. Between their last album Specialist in All Styles (fitting title, that) and this one, they seemed to have tapped into some kind of magical pipeline for great music they can turn on at will – though they don’t abuse the privilege. It’s got an elder statesman vibe that never feels aged, they just lay the shit down like they’ve got nothing to prove. Which at this point, they don’t – they’re acknowledged masters. One of the best recordings to hit the U.S. shores in 2008.

George RussellEzz-Thetics
There’s something wonderful and evocative about Russell’s music that I can’t quite pin down (and I’m not about to dive deep into musical theory just to dig his ‘Lydian Concept’). It keeps me a little confounded but it also draws me back to give another shot at understanding things – or following them, anyway – next time I pull this out for a listen. Of course, if you’ve read many of my reviews, this is basically a paraphrasing of what my favorite art does – holds out a little mystery while keeping me wanting to go back for more. Even without the mighty Eric Dolphy on hand, I would find this record enjoyable, but Dolphy always bumps the value of a record up a bit and it’s his extended solo on “’Round Midnight” here that is the record’s crowning moment. But it’s followed not far back in quality by a great “Nardis” and Russell’s own great title cut. His other two compositions (plus trombonist Dave Baker’s “Honesty”) also get off great moments – written and/or played with that unique approach that keeps me a lot intrigued and a little baffled. I don’t “get” it yet, but I love it, and part of that love probably comes from not getting it.

Postal Service - Give Up
I dunno, maybe it’s really better than I give it credit for – it’s catchy as hell, mildly experimental, smart. I think if I had been in or just out of college when this came out it might have a permanent spot on my top ten – at least until I hit my mid-30’s. But I feel about it the way I feel about probably 90% of the smart indie rock that crosses my ears – I can recognize the intelligence and respect the craft, but it feels like it was meant for someone else. Had I come to this another time, I’d probably parse these lyrics the way I do Talking Heads and Eno. I like it, I really do. I enjoy it every time I have an opportunity to hear it. I think it’s a cool idea and a great execution – Gibbard and Tamborello are a real simpatico pair who could even have been in the same studio (but of course weren’t) and not done any better. But even though they’re both roughly my age, I feel a little old listening to it. The more I think about it though, the more I think it's the indie rock equivalent in pop-experimental sensitivity of Upstairs at Eric's.

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