Recordings

Eventually is the sound of things we don't want to hear: the enervation of a star who never was, and the accompanying chuckle as rock 'n' roll eats its young once again.

-- Bill Wyman

Cyrus Chestnut
Earth Stories
(Atlantic Jazz)

On Earth Stories, his third recording for Atlantic, pianist Cyrus Chestnut leads a cohesive unit with an astounding trio sound -- no small feat for three young guys. In supreme sync with bassist Steve Kirby and drummer Alvester Garnett, Chestnut displays virtuoso fluency. "Decisions, Decisions" kicks off the album, an introduction to just what bounty pianistic percussion coupled with magnanimous touch can yield. Only 33 years old, Chestnut has gigged with Wynton Marsalis, Terence Blanchard, and Donald Harrison, and received hard-core trio training during his two years with taskmaster and superb jazz vocalist Betty Carter. It shows.

Earth Stories continues with the blues and gospel underpinnings his previous recordings Revelation and The Dark Before the Dawn established. And as before, his compositions are rendered with a grit that seems determined to deliver fun. Yes, fun, although in church they'd say "joy." Essentially, Chestnut samples genres within jazz, but he puts his own stamp on anything we might call a ballad, a bebop tune, or even a love song. On "Cooldaddy's Perspective" the trio welcomes trumpeter Eddie Allen, tenor saxman Steven Carrington, and alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, proof that Chestnut and company can also jam. We get some updated stride on "Nutman's Invention," while other tunes build off almost danceable rhythms. Accessible but always smart, Chestnut is never less than engaging.

The Cyrus Chestnut Trio plays Wed-Sun, May 8-12, at Yoshi's Nitespot in Oakland; call (510) 652-9200.

-- Zoë Anglesey

Experimental Audio Research
Beyond the Pale
(Big Cat)

Experimental Audio Research is a "supergroup" composed of Sonic Boom (Pete Kember) of Spacemen 3, Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine, Kevin Martin of GOD, and Eddie Prevost of AMM. Before you get all excited, recall that supergroups never sound like the sum of their parts: Beyond the Pale's continuous harmonic loops efface any trace of musical personality. But before you get all excited again, recall that all continuous harmonic loops are not created equal. EAR's sine wave trance comes on like Spacemen 3 with no pulse and no life. "Repetitive" would be the wrong adjective, implying that something -- anything -- happens more than once.

Beyond the Pale does not visit the lawless frontiers evoked in its title; it begins nowhere and stays there. When applied to music, the term "experimental" typically implies an exploratory brio: At their best, the presences and absences of improvised free jazz, the rough-cut formalisms of punk, and the split-atom tunings of microtonality all take us somewhere that at least feels like a free country. EAR's "experimentation" is clinical, confining; to listen to it is to participate in a laboratory test of a new anesthetic intended to make you forget your pain by substituting mere discomfort. Only an elaborately articulated musical masochism could validate this sort of experience -- and if you buy that argument you're probably already listening to SPK or other superior electronic/industrial variations on EAR's theme.

This platter goes down like green eggs and ham: There is no context which would enhance the listener's pleasure. What EAR is doing with harmonics could only sound transcendent 1) live, 2) on really good drugs, or 3) on a $4,000 stereo. Rule out Option 1, since EAR was conceived and executed as a studio project (back in 1992 -- kinda makes you wonder why it didn't come out then). As to Option 2, any drug which could make EAR sound incredible would also make your air conditioner sound good. Option 3 works only if, in addition to the expensive equipment, you also have the perhaps greater luxury of 49 uninterrupted minutes in which to immerse yourself. But even under these conditions, Beyond the Pale lacks the edge and vision to pass as Art. If Iannis Xenakis needed a 1958 World's Fair pavilion and 400 loudspeakers for his musique concrete, EAR needs to rent an entire city.

-- Sally Jacob

Richard Davies
There's Never Been a Crowd Like This
(Flydaddy)

In 1968, the L.A. group Love reached a pinnacle of hallucinogenic rock with Forever Changes, a medievally inspired album tracing bandleader Arthur Lee's flights of fancy through songs like "The Good Humor Man He Sees Everything Like This." Such orchestrated indulgence would later endure mixed results in the hands of theatrical groups like Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, before succumbing altogether to more concise pop conventions. Today, the exploration of the inner reaches of the mind through music is primarily the domain of nonvocal forms -- techno, ambient, etc.

Ex-Mole Richard Davies is a notable exception. He writes word-driven songs as if he were a cutout character from Terry Gilliam's animation for old Monty Python sketches: He's a proper gent with a British accent (he's Australian, actually) who seems to unhinge the top of his skull at will, pouring forth streams of eccentric, unedited thought.

Though Davies composes on guitar and piano, his strength is his conceptualizing; he doesn't play anything on his solo debut but a spot of harmonica, farming out his fastidious acoustic-guitar-and-trumpet arrangements to a studio support group. Whereas the symphonic Sub Pop songwriter Eric Matthews -- Davies' erstwhile partner in the ad hoc group Cardinal -- creates string-laden pop scores akin to those of short-lived '60s hit-makers the Left Banke ("Pretty Ballerina"), Davies, like Love's Lee, is more inclined toward challenging time signatures and idful wordplay. His is still very much pop music, however: "Sign Up Maybe for Being" could be a companion piece to John Lennon's "#9 Dream," while his stagey delivery of "Chips Rafferty" borrows liberally from Lennon's friend David Bowie.

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