Aphex Twin
I Care Because You Do

That disconcerting visage gracing the cover of I Care Because You Do is a self-portrait by none other than Richard James, aka Aphex Twin. A British bedroom experimentalist who rode to prominence on the techno train, James' instrumental excursions have garnered much crit-praise over the last couple years, largely due to his iconoclastic, mad-scientist's approach to creating electronic music.

Employing everything from cannibalized synths and household appliances to samples taken from the tunnels in which he once worked, the eccentric James isn't just another robotic trance-dance computer programmer run amok. Sure you can dance to Aphex Twin -- sometimes -- but as James himself once put it, the stereotypical Aphex fan is most likely the "sad fucker" who stands in the corner of the rave taking notes. Like Moby, this is techno for people who don't necessarily like techno.

But I Care is nowhere near as "difficult" as one might suspect. Picking up where last year's Selected Ambient Works Vol. II left off, it's immediately user-friendly in a throw-it-on-and-go-about-yer-business sort of way. "Acrid Avid Jam" updates vintage Kraftwerk, and the next three tracks -- in particular, the baleful "ICCT Hedral" -- loosely parallel Coil at its most broodingly orchestrated. It isn't until the torturous, tinnitus-inducing electronic squeal that pervades "Ventolin" (the album's first single, dedicated to England's asthma sufferers) that one really starts to wonder just what some poor machine did to deserve such abuse at the hands of Mr. James. From that point on, the music is pretty much animatronic dub, terminating with the faux-classical "next heap with."

There's a small army of innovative artists out there who easily out-weird Aphex Twin noisewise, but it you prefer twisted tones as a garnish and not the main course, this could be the platter for you.

-- Mike Rowell

Joe Henderson
Double Rainbow

When Joe Henderson was first introduced to the bossa nova melodicism of Antonio Carlos Jobim, via Stan Getz and Charlie Byrd's hit version of "Desafinado" in 1963, Latin rhythms began to filter into the tenor saxophonist's evolving musical vocabulary. In the liner notes to Double Rainbow, Henderson acknowledges, "Jobim had a profound effect on the way that I proceeded with melodies that I already had going on in my brain."

This homage to Jobim, intended as a collaborative celebration until the Brazilian composer suddenly took ill and passed away in December of last year, marks the third in a series of spectacular tribute recordings Henderson has been making for Verve since 1992. The first installment, Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn, reignited the saxophonist's career at the age of 55 by winning him a Grammy for best jazz instrumental solo. The follow-up, So Near, So Far (Musings for Miles), was awarded two Grammies.

More than a mere rehashing of Jobim standards, many of these titles are relatively obscure. Double Rainbow largely explores the soft and serene side of Jobim's compositions as Henderson's deeply focused solos speak to an inner peace, developing like prayer or a tearful conversation with an old, dear friend. The program splits personnel between an impassioned Brazilian combo featuring folks like Eliane Elias and Oscar Castro-Neves (who also produced the disc) and an all-star jazz quartet with Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride, and Jack DeJohnette. In these hands, the gorgeous delicacy of Jobim's vision lives on.

-- Sam Prestianni
Joe Henderson plays Sat, June 10, with Herbie Hancock, Oscar Castro-Neves, and former members of Jobim's band at the Masonic Theater in S.F.; call 864-5449.

Laura Love
The Laura Love Collection

Laura Love plays a musically mutated style she calls "Afro-Celtic." Most artists who claim they've "invented" a new hybrid come across as either pretentious or precious, but Love's stunningly originaR>l arrangements of her hard-hitting tunes draw on African, Caribbean, American folk, and Celtic styles to create settings that are as refreshing as they are unique.

Her Putumayo debut kicks off with "All Our Lives," an Irish jig that examines the unexpected ways people can become intertwined. It's accompanied by a folky fiddle, tinkling kalimba, strummed acoustic guitar, and poppin' bass worthy of Larry Graham. A funky bass also drives "If You Leave Me Now," a gentle kiss-off set to a driving skalike beat. Love's voice, an expressive alto that drips honeyed melismata, recalls Phoebe Snow at times, but with a sharper emotional edge, while her lyrics are extraordinary for their poeticism and innate musicality. Every syllable of every word is in sync with the rhythm, making Love's narratives sound like another instrument, a device that drives the songs forward to a satisfying emotional climax.

Though a comfortable Celtic verse-chorus structure backbones the works, it's elevated by unexpected musical strokes: On "Anyway," a working-class rocker, Love's yodeling suggests the polyphony of the Zairian pygmies; "Less Is More" rides a second-line rumba with a multitracked Love Gospel Choir providing angelic backing vocals; and "This Place I Love," a draft dodger's lament, contains a lighthearted scat that's a marked contrast to the tune's melancholy feel. There are damn few singer-songwriters with the verbal and musical skills to rock both your body and soul as convincingly as Love does here. She's definitely a "contenda."

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