This Los Angeles group's first recording is a high-water mark in the current pool of retro acts reinventing the danceable rock music of bands like Gang of Four, A Certain Ratio and The Clash music made more than 20 years ago. Like Moving Units' modern-day counterparts Radio 4 and The Rapture to name only a couple the formula is direct: rock music with a disco beat. Only this time the rip-offs are delivered with a knowing smirk. The guys in Moving Units show their cynicism in everything they do, from their band's name, which refers to the apparent priorities of the music industry, to the lyrics, which aim the poison darts at their own scenester kind.
When you see oh-so-cool dance-night devotees getting down to a chorus like "I am, I am, I am ordinary. I am, I am, not extraordinary," you know you've found a wonderfully wicked band. Moving Units practically force us to dance with their groove-ridden rock, yet ridicule us for it at the same time. Wayne Melton
Robert Jospé "Time to Play" (Inner Rhythm) hhhh
Robert Jospé's deft combination of hard bop with complex world rhythms has garnered significant national attention. His last album, 2000's "Blue Blaze," received a four-star review from Downbeat, and the new "Time To Play" is currently No. 4 on the JazzWeek radio play chart.
Not bad for a recording featuring an all-Richmond/Charlottesville lineup; Jospe's "Play" group is a group he actually plays with. The band draws together some of the best area musicians, including trumpeter John D'earth, pianist Bob Hallahan, percussionist Kevin Davis, saxophonist Jeff Decker, and bassists Elias Bailey and Pete Spaar. The set is a seamlessly crafted mix of standards and original compositions.
The template is the Blue Note recordings of the early- to mid-'60s, the jazz golden era from which the two openers, Horace Silver's "Swinging the Samba" and Lee Morgan's "Party Time" are drawn. Jospé's drumming has a joyous headlong quality, and the close interplay with longtime collaborator Davis provides a polyrhythmic foundation that supports the entire session.
One of the advantages of a drummer-led session is that it allows extensive improvisation space for the other musicians. Each has a strong individual sound: Hallahan's intelligent angularity is complemented by D'earth's bright metallic precision and Jeff Decker's agile muscularity.
But even without the charms of melody and harmony, the rhythms of "Time to Play" are engaging. Jospé is an effortlessly inventive player, multiplying and subdividing time, articulately inserting moments of silence and surprise. Peter McElhinney
Various Artists "Warren Haynes Presents: The Benefit Vol. 2" (Evil Teen) hhh
Those who didn't make it to Asheville, N.C., in December 2000 can now pretend they were there. For the last 14 years, Gov't Mule guitarist Warren Haynes has rounded up Southern rockers home for the holidays to play with him in a benefit concert with proceeds going to Habitat For Humanity. This double disc release features his performances with some musicians you'd expect to hang with the Allman Bros. crowd Dave Schools of Widespread Panic, Kevin Kinney of Drivin n Cryin, Gregg Allman, Aquarium Rescue Unit and some you might not expect like John Popper, Edwin McCain and The Bottle Rockets. Haynes' gritty authenticity shines through on each of the tunes. For an old, road-worn musician, he still has energy and, most impressively, the drive to pull these players together not to mention the flexibility to meld his playing with those around him. The best moments, however, are the acoustic performances at the beginning of the CD. In light of his bandmate Allen Woody's recent passing, hearing Haynes with just his guitar is moving, and alone worth the cost of the CD. Carrie Nieman
The White Stripes "Elephant" (Third Man/V2) hhhhh
Red and white. Guitar and drums. Brother and sister? (Actually, ex-husband and wife.)
Anyway, forget all that, then put on The White Stripes' "Elephant" and feel the only one three-word phrase that matters: rock 'n' roll.
White Stripes frontman Jack White has expanded his two-piece band's sound little by little on each of its four albums, and "Elephant" is no exception, from the basslike opening notes of "Seven Nation Army" to the organ vamps of "The Air Near My Fingers." It's their "biggest" sound yet. On "There's No Home For You Here," Jack's multitracked vocals expand in your head like a helium balloon, until the guitar crunches back in like a pop in the nose.
"Fell in Love With a Girl" was the theme for the breakout "White Blood Cells," but this album is darker, replacing romantic love with the sexual swagger and blistering guitar solos of "Ball and Biscuit." On "The Hardest Button to Button," a vicious little anti-love-song, the narrator sticks pins in a voodoo doll to stop his baby's toothache and growls, "Now we're a family!"
Let the naysayers complain that the Stripes' mix of raw blues and explosive rock has been done before. Jack White is no Robert Johnson or Jimmy Page, and Mick Jagger wasn't exactly Muddy Waters either. Dave Renard
Rene Marie "Live At Jazz Standard" (MaxJazz) hhhhh
There has always been something of a disconnect between Rene Marie's polished studio recordings and her highly personal, wildly engaging live performances. "Live at Jazz Standard" brings these complementary aspects together.
Not only is it her first live session; it's the first time she has recorded with her longtime accompanists Elias Bailey, Howard Curtis and John Toomey. The earlier CDs featured great players, but this is a great band; its intuitive interplay is ideal for Rene's intimate approach.
The recording is sequenced like a live performance: first a breezy "Deed I Do," then an impressionistic meditation on "Where or When." Rene's ability to deliver standards with conversational freshness always has been the heart of her talent; what has changed over time is her confidence and imagination. "Nature Boy" is a concise demonstration of interpretive clarity and vocal prowess.
The next song, an unlikely combination of Ravel's "Bolero" and Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne," is worth the price of the CD. The songs were her late father's favorites. The arrangement, seamlessly uniting the two very different compositions, is incredibly clever; the high-wire vocal gymnastics impressive. But what makes the songs transcendent is the heartfelt intensity that powers the performance.
I was at the opening set, and it was a revelation to see how completely Rene won over the New York City crowd. The sustained ovation on the CD gives only the palest indication of the audience's enthusiasm. (At the performance she got an ovation after the song, right in the middle of the show.)
The set ends with a hushed, a capella, "How Can I Keep From Singing," which has become Rene's signature encore. The song ends with a final flurry of fireworks, the resolution of the last line staved off by a lingering sequence of scatted song fragments.
"Live at Jazz Standard" comes close to capturing the power and courage of Rene Marie in concert.
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