What if Beat Generation artists had access to the sampling and collage technologies today's hip- and trip-hop jazzbos enjoy? Imagine On the Road as an interactive CD-ROM, "Howl" as a video clip, Charlie Parker with access to a sampler. The very nature of Beat art -- improvisation, repetition, collision of media -- is the force behind Offbeat, the seventh project from the Red Hot organization.
For 76 minutes, Offbeat offers looped eddies of rhythm and melody, swirling between EBN's drum-lesson-LP samples and Meat Beat Manifesto's audio collage, Amiri Baraka's activist poetry and Barry Adamson's swingy rap. Cuts dovetail with sonic interludes -- Skylab's whispered "Lullabye," Christian McBride's subversive bass solos -- and DJs Krush, Krazy, and Spooky all trade collaborative spotlights. With 26 tracks to choose from, it's hard to name the best one, but as of this minute Laika's exotic "Looking for the Jackalope" is my favorite, a trancey loopfest that's as lonely as it is lovely. DJ Spooky's "Temporarily Displaced," a phantasm of machine noise and distant rhythms, peppered with short samples from William Burroughs, gets a similar nod. Other roster names include David Byrne, Mark Eitzel, and My Bloody Valentine; the disc ends with Moby's chilling "Republican Party," a crowd of blue-blood voices laughing while a baby cries.
The third in a triptych of projects dissecting the Beat legacy, Offbeat follows a CD-ROM and an hour-long TV special, and contains (for those with a ROM drive) a short video by Kevin Kerslake. Donating 100 percent of its profits to AIDS-fighting organizations, Red Hot has given us more than just a benefit comp, more than an enhanced disc: Offbeat marks a 40-year-long loop, a celebration -- in this time of plague -- of the immortal power of art and music.
-- Colin Berry
Conventional wisdom would deem this a Latin folk album, but with the diversity of ideas showcased, vocalist Claudia Gomez's Tierradentro is better suited for a Latin jazz cabaret than a romp through the rolling green Andean hills of her native Colombia.
Singing entirely in Spanish (with English translation in the liners), the Bay Area transplant stays true to her roots with traditional vehicles like "La Guayabita," "Aguacerito Llove," and her own "Recuerdos de Medellin," although producer John Santos of the Machete Ensemble is on hand to blend the many genres of Latin music in her original compositions. Gomez drops the occasional surprise, like the bolero "No Te Importe Saber (Don't Give It a Thought)," a Cuban classic by Rene Touzet that she caresses with a lovelorn passion that befits the winsome lyrics. Brazilian flavors permeate courtesy of keyboardist Marcos Silva, while guitar wiz Jeff Buenz brings Metheny-esque riffs that add a nice harmonic edge to Gomez's smoky alto. Introduced by a snazzy whistle, "Debi Llorar" is the best of the carioca-inspired pieces; the vocal mosaic "Soltaro," with its intriguing romp of counterpoints and accents, embraces the most progressive of a cappella concepts.
The result isn't jazz, or Latin American new song, but an unusual fusion that pinpoints Gomez as a talent to be reckoned with. A couple of years ago, she left the Bay Area, disillusioned with the scene; now she's finally arrived "inland."
-- Jesse "Chuy" Varela
The Brian Jones Town Massacre
The Brian Jones Town Massacre has soaked up the inherent weirdness of San Francisco and turned it into an ally. Behind a surging wall of guitars that is the band's trademark, Anton Newcombe and Matt Hollywood turn out jangly, reverberating tunes replete with Moog, Farfisa, horns, flute, and just about any other instrument that takes their fancy. BJTM doesn't craft three-minute tunes, more like five-minute experiments in what is possible. "Crushed" plays on a dubby bass line, while "That Girl Suicide" trips along with a guitar riff that would have made Sterling Morrison proud. Though the basic pop structure remains, BJTM hangs enough from it to ensure every moment holds discovery. Newcombe sings laconically, sounding just wasted enough; the guitar work is never lazy. On several tracks, notably "Everyone Says," he shares the vocal duties with Elise Dye and Paola Simmonds to haunting effect. As for the flaws of this debut disc, a CD can't capture the explosive dynamics of the group's live shows -- you can't see Joel Gion shaking his maracas wildly, leering from behind his shades, and plundering beer from the audience. Maybe if you ask nicely enough, BJTM will send him round for the afternoon to enhance your listening pleasure.
Billed as singer Sebestyen's first album of songs not rooted in her native Hungary, Kismet finds her wandering throughout Eastern Europe and even vocalizing in English on "Leaving Derry Quay," an Irish air she adapted from County Galway recording artist Dolores Keane. According to the liner notes, "Hungary and Ireland both have strong folk traditions and strong revivalist movements." Of course, that point embodies a multitude of virtues and vices, because such revivals sometime result in a dressing up and a selling out of good roots.
Fans attracted to the unfamiliar scales and swaggering rhythms of traditional Hungarian music are advised to seek out Sebestyen's older albums for Hannibal and Koch and her upcoming show at Slim's with her longtime companions, Muzsikas. On Kismet, she mostly leaves Hungary behind, in the company of fellow Budapest traveler, producer, and ex-husband Nikola Parov, who brings with him a hectically varied and sometimes inappropriate battery of ethnic instruments, as well as the sort of bass, drum, and sequencer programming that are a sure warning sign that these musicians are headed toward the new adult-contemporary audience.
On this trip, anything goes. After dubious doses of Celtic pipes and Indian percussion in Bulgarian material, the top of the Tower of Babel is reached in "If I Were a Rose," which takes the listener through the musics of the Baskirians, the Hungarians, the Tartars, and the Cheremis (the first and last refer to autonomous Russian regions) without ever really getting a hit on any of them. Fortunately, there are a few moments worthy of Sebestyen's slightly honeyed, plaintive soprano. The Bosnian "Gold, Silver, or Love" is the best and loveliest of the tracks, and the least cluttered with Parov's cutesy instrumental breaks. But Kismet's compulsive eclecticism generally weakens any kind of memorable organic structure in the individual songs, and leaves you hoping that Sebestyen will somehow find her way back home.
Marta Sebestyen and Muzsikas play Thurs, March 21, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.
-- Jeff Kaliss
Sackcloth 'n' Ashes
Things you might find in the closet of Sixteen Horsepower frontman David Eugene Edwards:
* The family Bible passed down from his Nazarene preacher grandfather, folded open to Daniel 9:3: "So I set my face to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications with fasting, sackcloth and ashes." The verse is repeated in the liner notes of the Denver trio's debut.
* Laudatory press clips: The scribes attempt to pin down the music but only come up with heavily hyphenated names like "country-goth-rock" and "country-punk-Cajun-hillbilly" and gratuitous allusions to roots music, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Joy Division, Nick Cave, Hank Williams, and a countrified Echo & the Bunnymen.
* A dogeared copy of William Faulkner's As I Lay Dying with Dewey Dell's "I believe in God, God. God, I believe in God" double-scored.
* Edwards' notes on 1920s and '30s mountain and Cajun musics, dug up at the public library.
* Instruments: A metal slide aching to find the steel strings of a vintage 1930 guitar; a turn-of-the-century bandoneon, a small-buttoned tango accordion; Kevin Soll's handcrafted flat-top bass; Jean Yves Tola's brushes and sticks, scarred from keeping time with snare rim clacks.
* Handwritten lyrics to "Black Soul Choir": "O I will forgive your wrongs/ Yes I am able/ An' for my own I feel great shame/ I would offer up a brick to the back of your head, boy/ If I were Cain."
* The battered stool Edwards mounted during his band's opening slots on tours with Shane McGowan, Innocence Mission, and Violent Femmes. From his throne, he rolls back his deep-socketed eyes and wails with spooky intensity.
* A burlap sack of A&M tchotchkes: wooden postcards, copper trinkets, and fliers scripted with Old West wanted-poster fonts. Publicity kits, written by record company hacks repeating the phrase "fire & brimstone" as many times as a one-page bio will allow.
* A future, as in the band's seven-record contract with A&M.
-- Jeff Stark