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.

With the liltingly accented lyrics of French singer Dominique Durand and the minimalist, light-fingered production of Kurt Ralske (who gave Ultra Vivid Scene its fey, Euro-trash aesthetic), Realistic has all the superficial allure of an early '60s new wave film. The loungy xylophone on "Shallow" evokes images of Jean Seberg dreamily wandering down the Champs ƒlysŽes, while "Get Enough" and "No Guarantee" are the kind of wistful-yet-upbeat pop numbers that always accompany teen-age heartbreak on the dance floor. Durand's old-fashioned English idioms ("beaten by a landslide," "this is what the fuss was all about") pop up at the oddest times, giving the music a peculiar charm -- though why Japanese groups like Shonen Knife can't pull off the same trick without provoking snickers is still a mystery. Unlike that group's cheery pop, though, Realistic takes awhile to sink in, and ends with a trio of lifeless songs that definitely outstay their welcome. But tracks like "Beautiful" and the lush "Point of View" demand replaying. Like its namesake, Ivy will creep up and eventually overtake you.

-- Rafer Guzman

The Code
Psychosexual Album
(Ponk)

As any Freudian will tell you, psychosexuality involves an intricate nexus of mental, emotional and behavioral tugs on the libido. With local composer/bassist Steve Horowitz at the helm, the Code's latest multigenre blitzkrieg covers all the bases with a very '90s sexual candor. Numerous levels of time-honored dysfunction are bared in the words of performance artist/singer Sten Rudstrom, who spins yarns of Oedipal consummation ("With Love") and his girlish underwear ("One Chunk"). Later, the "terrible sexual acts" of bestiality, sodomy and golden showers, and "the ultimate attitude of blasphemy" are vividly illustrated on "Amazing." Yet what's really disturbing isn't the aberrations or perversions but the inevitability of intimacy-gone-sour captured on "Lust Won't": "I dream of you and you dream of me/ The only thing we have in common is nightmares." A mad musicality intertwines with these convoluted themes as the world-class players -- including guitarist Steve Kirk and saxophonists Ralph Carney and Dave Slusser -- let loose with twisted, brutal funk and volcanic improvisations. These electric currents fall way on the other side of the (main)stream.

-- Sam Prestianni
The Code plays Thurs, May 25, at the New Performance Gallery in S.F.; call 386-2009.

Filter
Short Bus
(Reprise)

In keeping with the visceral depth of forefathers Al Jourgensen (Ministry) and Jaz Coleman (Killing Joke), Filter's Richard Patrick and Brian Liesegang take a fresh, intelligent approach to industrial music on Short Bus, their debut. The usual heavy guitar onslaught and electronic mayhem is there, but washed in a deeply personal gray. Songwriter Patrick gives the genre a different feel with his intensely confessional lyrics: "I've been thinking about what you said/ It's been going around in my head/ I've been thinking about what you were/ I think you'd be better off if you were dead," he sings on "Consider This." Sonically, Filter may be a beast of a different nature, but a Nine Inch Nails influence is undeniable; in fact, programmer/producer/guitarist Patrick recorded with NINailer Trent Reznor on Pretty Hate Machine.

Short Bus opens briefly with a slow, haunting guitar melody on "Hey Man Nice Shot" that eventually plummets maniacally into the dark bowels of Skinny Puppy hell. The drum machine has an occasionally tinny quality, but on "Dose," the beats are as massive as anything Metallica's Lars Ulrich might pound, cleverly emphasizing the refrain, "It makes me want to stick my dick in your face." Just put that thing away, thank you. Other tracks are more austere, like "Stuck in Here," in which a simple tune and deadpan lyrics illustrate an all-too-familiar battle with personal demons. The struggle is nothing new, but the context is, and this brand of confrontational industrial pop is not for the weak of heart.

-- Kim Taylor

Ben Lee
Grandpaw Would
(Grand Royal)

At the tender age of 16, Ben Lee has distilled the essence of pop music, refined it into a syrupy extract and bottled it. The result is Grandpaw Would, an endearingly naive freshman effort sugary enough to pimple a dead man. Supershort and catchy, Lee's clever ditties occupy a world of best friends, kissing and holding hands -- call it schoolboy pop. According to the cute, Lee-penned liner notes, the bulk of the release was recorded in Chicago over the lad's winter holidays. On vacation from his New Zealand high school and his rock band Noiseaddict, Lee laid down vaulted tracks based around his revered $20 acoustic guitar. He didn't have to go it alone in the windy city; he had help from the kind of friends a budding young musician would die for. Both Liz Phair and Rebecca Gates of the Spinanes cruised by the studio to lend backing vocals to the ephemeral masterpieces "Pop Queen" and "Away With the Pixies." And Brad Wood, who co-produced Phair's Exile in Guyville, acted as Lee's pal, host and producer; Wood's responsible for the straightforward drums and shakers as well as the clean sound that allows Lee's slight Kiwi accent to float deliciously over the mix. Sometimes Grandpaw is painfully adolescent, but Lee's fumbling is usually more adorable than annoying, with an aw-shucks charm all its own.

-- Jeff Stark

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