-- Michael Batty

Hip Hop

Invisible Skratch Picklz
While the Bay Area talent has earned a name -- not to mention millions of dollars -- for its stereotypical "gangsta"- or "reality"-based rap a la Too $hort, Spice-1, Master P, E40, 2Pac, etc., the "turntable band" known as the Invisible Skratch Picklz -- made up of break-dancers, graffiti artists, beat-boxers, and, of course, DJs -- has gone against the grain by returning to the roots of hip-hop culture. "We look at hip hop as an art form that needs to be preserved and respected, not exploited," says dedicated Picklz manager Alex Aquino, who has been "down" with the Filipino/Frisco crew since they started out a decade ago. The multitalented extended group, including Q-Bert, Mix Master Mike, Apollo, Shortkut, and Disk, who recently left to form a band with Buckethead, has been busy winning DJ battle contests all over the world, doing concerts, putting out mix tapes and records, and collaborating with a diverse array of musicians, including Bill Laswell, Branford Marsalis, Dr. Octogon (aka Kool Keith), Ras Kass, Saafir, and MCM & the Monster; all the while keeping the art form of the "turntablist" alive. "When we perform live we use a lot of turntable orchestration and sound manipulation, usually with three DJs on three turntables," says Q-Bert. The group's latest project is an engaging, soon-to-be-released EP titled The Invisible Skratch Picklz vs. the Clams of Death.

-- Billy Jam, Hip Hop Slam

The Marginal Prophets
K2 and the Noble Def G, the black and Jewish tag team behind the Marginal Prophets, are once again making hip hop safe for post-college slackers with minds full of academic pop culture and lungs full of pot. "We didn't grow up in the 'hood, so we don't write about the 'hood," says K2. Instead, the raps off their self-released Twist the Nob sound like 20 different simultaneous conversations percolating over a haphazardly stocked jukebox at your standard Mission watering hole. The first cut, "Phat in the Whole," kicks off with a massive sample from Camper Van Beethoven's "Pictures of Matchstick Men," while the duo name-checks Utne Reader, "Grace Slick Rick," and the Knack before explaining a date's prudishness "'cause The Simpsons was on." Later the pop-culture joy ride rolls through Franz Liszt, Travis Bickle (of Taxi Driver fame), and Truffaut with a soundtrack lifted from the Beastie Boys, The The, and the overture to Jesus Christ Superstar. Like any sluiced conversation, Twist the Nob courses from sex to Sega and from Thomas Nagel to Lender's bagels. To quote the Prophets, the mix has "got more flavor than a green Jolly Rancher."

-- Jeff Stark

Rollo's Kitchen
Since forming two years ago, the unique San Francisco sextet Rollo's Kitchen has graced every kind of bill: from punk rock warehouse parties to hard-core rap shows (with the likes of such gangsta rap acts as Ill Mannered Posse and 11/5) to opening for born-again Christians Run-D.M.C. At each of these diverse settings, the self-described "hip-hop band" -- comprised of superswift DJ Foul Ball, rappers Mr. 12 Letter and Mark D., and the funk-fueled power trio of bassist Kurt, drummer Roman, and guitarist Greg -- somehow manages to effortlessly win over its audiences. With two demo tapes, a 20-song repertoire, and a constant live schedule, Rollo's Kitchen has developed a strong local following. Their often-inspired performances take advantage of the fact that, unlike most hip-hop acts, they are not a "DAT" group but rather a live and spontaneous act. Shows usually end in one big, fun freestyle jam, with every rapper and wannabe in the house jumping up onstage to showcase his or her mike skills.

-- Billy Jam, Hip Hop Slam


Junk facetiously skews the acid-jazz paradigm with a simple equation: jazz + funk = Junk. But baritone saxophonist David Robbins, guitarist David Schumacher, bassist Frank Swart, and drummer Malcolm Peoples argue that while their music involves aspects of both genres, it rigidly follows neither. But it would be easy to turn the band's cleverness on its rear. One could reasonably claim that Junk ain't sweaty or nasty enough to be down with the funk, and they don't swing or improvise so mightily yet to have earned their jazz stripes. When one considers the quartet's lengthy tenure at Eleven, the posh SOMA restaurant known for its lite fare and lite "jazz" (unobtrusive supper music), the cynic's inclination is to dis the band out of hand. But that kind of attitude won't deter Junk's mission, for they harbor no self-delusion. After all, Junk is Junk -- make of them what you will. And even though they're not quite funk and not "real" jazz, Junk's stone-chilly grooves are plenty cool for this ol' town.

-- Sam Prestianni

Oranji Symphonette
Since kitsch is now considered high art among the fashionably hip, it makes sense that lounge and other questionably legit musics of yore vie for the spotlight in the music marketplace. Oranj Symphonette, a veritable supergroup of Bay Area improvisers led by cellist/bassist Matt Brubeck (and including guitarist Joe Gore, multi-instrumentalist Ralph Carney, drummer Scott Amendola, and organist/accordionist Rob Burger), stands out among the hapless Esquivel wannabes with a truly ingenious concept: The band revives soundtracks by the late Hollywood composer Henry Mancini. At first glance, tunes such as "The Pink Panther Theme" and "March of the Cue Balls" may not seem like germane vehicles for "serious" improvisation, but this group could probably improv seriously around a dial tone. And, despite their kitschy rep, Oranj Symphonette's debut album, Plays Mancini, proves that these fun-filled scores offer solid and even striking melodic foundations for inspired improv development. Underscoring this point, Gore says that even though "there's a lot of humor in our approach to Mancini, there's nothing campy or ironic about it." He insists, "It's music of real substance."

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