By Ian S. Port
By Tony Ware
By Emma Silvers
By Gary Moskowitz
By Alee Karim
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
By Derek Opperman
So Arise Therefore is a breakthrough for both of us, a Palace Music release that finally captures what all those beady-eyed liberal arts majors have described. It's a fine piece of work that should excite Caucasians everywhere, which is to say it should make a strong showing in many a critic's Top 10. Oldham has willed himself into comparisons with Leonard Cohen, and his meter is as measured and illuminatingly precise as that of that other notable Cohen conveyor, Nick Cave. But if Cohen straddles the fence between clownish faux-European ennui and bathetic faux-Catholic commitment, Cave stands in the dungheap of the former, while Oldham tumbles into the latter -- and into a pool of his own blood at that. It's the pure expressivity of his voice that makes the difference.
With Steve Albini behind the boards, the sound is not lo-fi so much as modest; the piano and organ of Gastr del Sol's Dave Grubbs adds as much to the feel of wrist-slitting Americana as the antiquated drum machine on several tracks hearkens back to Oldham's past (he, like many of us, would no doubt prefer to forget the shame of being as influenced by Ebn-Ozn as by Walt Whitman). As for the Leonard Cohen analogy, though, once Palace Music oozes into the semi-mainstream, the response will be more along the lines of what PJ Harvey has received. So beginnith the deluge.
-- D. Strauss
Safe to Imagine
Certain so-called Young Lions of Jazz and their albums seem to buzz with an amphetamine vibe, one pumped into them by sales-conscious record companies and image-conscious media. Saxophonist Zane Massey has yet to transcend either the obscurity or the cult-legend status of his late trumpeter father, Cal Massey, but he's on his way as a two-time leader for Chicago-based Delmark, which is known for releasing quality discs by regional, ascending, and otherwise little-known jazz artists.
For the time being, the absence of buzz is just one of the charms of the younger Massey's latest outing, and is manifest in the respectful selection of his song list. Safe to Imagine features three tunes by his dad, as well as four by the undersung members of his quartet -- pianist Denton Darien, bassist Hideliji Taninaka, and drummer Sadio M. Abdu Shahid -- and one by himself. The breadth of the material defies commercial categorization, ranging from the tropic holiday cha-cha of Cal's "Quiet Dawn" to the thoughtful Ornette Coleman-like architecture of Zane's "Telekinetics" to the breezy post-bop musing of Shahid's "Blues for Awliya."
Massey's expression through his instruments (soprano on one track, tenor on all others) is eminently friendly and accessible. Although he's slightly askew in the "Blues" format, his spirited looseness approaches the ease of conversation on Cal's "Lady Charlotte." The saxophonist's affection for his horns inspires him to explore their less familiar aspects, as in his echoing harmonics, overblowing, and unorthodox tonguing of the reed on Shahid's experimental "Myras' Maya." He's flexible in intonation without losing his identity, blowing airiness and serene vibrato into "Quiet Dawn" and a rib-tickling holy growl on Taninaka's gospelly "The Sun of Son."
Massey's colleagues get chances to shine both as players and as writers in their original contributions: Shahid's solo on "Myras' Maya," for instance, which shows an openness and restraint unusual in a drummer, even as he effectively deconstructs his trap set. The supportive interaction of the ensemble suggests it's together for something more than just fame and fortune, though those wouldn't be inappropriate rewards for this kind of original entertainment.
-- Jeff Kaliss
It's a tribute to the durable originality of PJ Harvey that a trio of Swedes could ape her shamelessly and still cut a pretty fine record of their own. Salt's debut, Auscultate (the king's English for "listen"), is the product of a band born fully formed in the image of the 50 Ft. Queenie herself, the former Polly Jean Harvey.
Salt is more likely to become a radio staple, though, than its bony patron saint; Salt mostly steers clear of the drastic volume fluctuations that preclude PJ Harvey's own records from earning more airplay. Singer/guitarist Nina Ramsby sings athletically, like PJ Harvey, without shredding her own melodies, and her backers, the rhythmic tandem of drummer Jim Tegman and bassist Daniel Ewerman, are every bit as wiry and explosive as were Rob Ellis and Steve Vaughan of PJ Harvey's original band.
Parroting Polly Jean, Ramsby's lyrics trod a scorched-earth battleground -- that of Woman vs. Manliness. Her verses (like PJ Harvey's) often consist of a single violent image ("Punish me as a boy, I would not," for example), repeated four times for emphasis. Her choppy English works best on "Witty," which sounds like "witchy" -- an apt description of her sinister guitar riffs, which are of a piece with PJ Harvey's. "Obsession" roars with the same hyper-melodic intensity as Harvey's "Sheela-Na-Gig," and like PJ Harvey, Ramsby has the unusual ability to emasculate her listeners with a single lick of her eyeteeth. On the album-closing "Undressed," she recounts a nocturnal submission: "In this dream," she coos, "I force you to lay me down." She might as well be addressing her inspiration, which, by the way, is the mesmerizing British blues-rocker PJ Harvey.
Salt plays Sat, May 4, at Slim's in S.F.; call 255-0333.
-- James Sullivan