Recordings

Isaac Hayes
Raw & Refined
Branded
(Pointblank/Virgin)

Back in the late '60s and early '70s when James Brown was lugging around Papa's brand new bag and George Clinton was busy making the Mothership Connection, Isaac Hayes was getting down with a unique brand of hot buttered soul. Mixing back-porch blues conviction with the ambience of a classical symphony, Hayes' orchestral maneuvers eventually earned him an Oscar for the Shaft soundtrack. It's been almost eight years since Hayes last graced the musical arena, but now it's comeback time. Unleashing two albums (one vocal, the other instrumental) simultaneously is an ambitious and risky undertaking, especially in the '90s. But then the man they once called Black Moses -- he who used to strut around the stage in a gold, ankle-length chain-mail coat -- has never been too keen on convention.

The vocal album, Branded, is a mixed bag, roaming over familiar Hayes terrain: blues, syrupy urban-contemporary soul and lite funk. It's as though Hayes is covering himself: He reworks several vintage tunes (including "Soulsville" from Shaft), reunites with longtime songwriting partner David Porter and gives other artists' tunes a makeover (including Sting's "Fragile"). Despite the overabundance of Hayes' trademark slow jams, always enhanced by that inimitable deep 'n' smooth baritone, the disc does offer some choice funk rumble. Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic is a remake of the '69 Hayes classic with one slight revision: Chuck D raps a tribute to Hayes' music, which has been judiciously sampled by the hip-hop nation over the years.

As for Raw & Refined, with the Movement (Hayes' backing orchestra/band) back in full swing, it's one hell of a retro-blast: Shaft-era Hayes reborn and updated. The release kicks off with the gritty blues 'n' funk of Birth of Shaft before slipping into the sweeping, creamy soul/jazz that Hayes pioneered. Strings, horns and the chicka-chicka strains of wah-wah guitar underscore Hayes' groove-styled keyboard work on joints like "Funky Junky" and "Southern Breeze." And, of course, there's plenty of that smoky, late-night bachelor-pad music just perfect for seducing the ladies. From honey-dripping crooner to funkateer to easy-listening composer/conductor, there are many sides to the seminal soul man, and this Isaac Hayes double-shot presents them all in stereophonic sound.

-- Spence Dookey

John Santos & the Machete Ensemble
Machete
(Xenophile)

Music scholar, band leader, arranger and master drummer John Santos is a walking encyclopedia of Latin music, committed to a pure Afro-Cuban sound. On his first new release in five years, Santos is joined by four Cuban legends: Cachao, inventor of the mambo, on bass; Chocolate Armenteros, whose blazing trumpet was featured on many Beny MorŽ sides in the '40s; timbale master Orestes Vilató; and hand drummer Anthony Carrillo, not to mention pianist/arranger Rebeca Mauleón and a host of the Bay Area's brightest Latin jazz stars. Santos wanted to showcase Cuba's musical roots on this project, which was deemed to have little commercial potential and took over six years to record. But you can hear the love that went into the album in every note and drum stroke.

Machete covers vast musical and spiritual ground, celebrating Cuba's large contributions to the rhythms of the world. "Iya," the piece with the heaviest African sound, is a funky prayer to Ochœn, the orisha mother goddess, embroidered by the fat, golden notes of David Yamasaki's guitar and Lakiba Pittmans' deep, yearning vocals. "El Mago Vilató" is a bembŽ driven by Vilató's timbales and Chocolate's short, sharp trumpet solo; "Modupue" sounds like a smooth, early '60s-style Cuban jazz outing; and "Media Luna," a lush danzon-mambo, highlights the graceful charangalike solos of violinist Anthony Blea and flutist Melecio Madgaluyo.

But the track that best sums up Machete is "La Patria del Son" ("Roots of the Son"), laden with all the elements that make Cuban music magical: relentless interlocking rhythms, the stinging trumpet flights of Chocolate, the shimmering tres of Sekou Heath and the graceful poetry of the lyrics: "El son tiene m‡s sabor/ Que el ron, tabaco y la ca–a/ Orgulloso de su herencia de Africa, Cuba y Espa–a" ("The son has more flavor/ Than rum, tobacco and sugar cane/ Proud of his African, Cuban and Spanish heritage").

-- j. poet
John Santos & the Machete Ensemble play a record release party Fri, May 26, at Bimbo's 365 Club in S.F.; call 474-0365.

Ivy
Realistic
(Seed)

For those of us who couldn't get enough of that short-lived phenomenon dubbed "bliss rock" (My Bloody Valentine, Pale Saints, et al.), Ivy's debut album comes as a welcome retrogression. Though it sounds absurd to say that the band has updated a sound that fell out of favor only a couple of years ago, it's nevertheless true: Now that many musicians have finished destroying the three-minute pop song with blasts of feedback and endless sequencer loops, they've rediscovered the Beach Boys and found that hooks, choruses and verses sound pretty good again. Ivy offers the best of both worlds: whorls of guitar, white noise and neo-Muzak à la Stereolab anchored to an indie-pop sensibility that didn't quite exist back when bands like Chapterhouse were filling the bins.

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