It's time to abandon the notion that Wynton Marsalis's music is cerebral and bloodless. This record has got as much fire and down-home fervor as any jazz album since... well, since who knows when.
Marsalis built In This House on the structure of an African-American church service. The 115-minute composition winds its way from the stately overture "Devotional" through a fervent "Prayer" (featuring the great gospel singer Marion Williams) and a progressively fiery "Sermon" (its uptempo last section is the hottest bit of sanctified jazz since Ray Charles's 1950s Atlantic hits) to the funky sway of "Recessional" and the wistful waltz of "Benediction." If this music doesn't get you moving, check your pulse—you may be dead.
Marsalis's newfound funkiness is matched by a growing gift for invention. The melodies and motifs come spilling out, singable and sparkling; they vanish, recur, recombine, the composer weaving it all together with a magician's wink. Marsalis has the steepest learning curve in American music; at 32, he seems capable of limitless growth.
The sole lament is that this version of his band no longer exists—tenor saxophonist Todd Williams and powerhouse bassist Reginald Veal have since left. But drummer Herlin Riley and alto saxophonist Wes Anderson are two of the most powerful jazzmen working, and pianist Eric Reed (a minister's son gorgeously al home here) is a gifted 23-year-old. And of course, there's Wynton. As you may have heard, he dabbles a bit on trumpet. (Sony)"
Looking for wit in pop song lyrics can be like fishing for change in pay-phone coin returns: it's best not to have high expectations. Which is why this playful debut album by cabaret performer John Forster is such a happy surprise. Like Shel Silverstein and Tom Lehrer a generation ago, Forster is a musical satirist who mixes social critique with a shot of wry. In a poke at parents who steer their kids toward the education fast track, he takes the view of a worried preschooler ("What am I going to do?/ I'm fine in a sandbox/ But I choke in an interview"). Elsewhere he gives the tongue-in-cheek treatment to everything from German dreams of expansionism ("Though they call it the Common Market/ It will always be Deutschland to me") to featherheaded friends ("Way down deep you're shallow/ Superficial to the core/ Beneath your surface/There's just more surface/ And beneath that, even more"). The album's masterpiece is "Fusion," a parody of Paul Simon's Graceland that skewers Simon and his liberal borrowing of African music like an entomologist pinning down a prized bug ("It's a matter of finders keepers/ 'Cause there ain't no copyrights in fusion/ We're all just rippin' off each other"). This is no mainstream album, and Forster won't be hanging any gold records on his wall because of it. But for those who go looking for unexpected prizes, this CD will seem like a fistful of shiny quarters. (Philo)"
Since springing solo from the Europop trio Matt Bianco in 1987, Basia has made a platinum habit out of sounding happy while singing the lovesick blues. With her third album, The Sweetest Illusion, the Polish-born star croons a more lovestruck tune. Though her patented mix of samba, bossa nova, jazz lite and R&B remains, she cages some of her merry abandon and captures the apprehensive rapture that's often a symptom of love's spell. "She deserves it and can't get used to so much joy," she sings over one mournful riff.
But old habits are hard to break. Lest things get too soppy, Basia returns to familiar form on finger-snappers like "Third Time Lucky" and "More Fire Than Flame." She may not sing everything with such a broad smile, but that doesn't make The Sweetest Illusion any less contagious. (Epic)
The 1991 arrival of singer-songwriter Marty Brown signaled a return to hillbilly twang and gut-level soul. Brown's no-frills, low-tech brand of country is a welcome relief from the current crop of Nashville cats who get inspired by dusting off a copy of the Eagles' greatest hits. Brown is the real deal, harkening back to country's good old days, when the mournful, moody style of Hank Williams and George Jones ruled. Ironically, the very qualities that endear Brown to critics as well as his fervent fans are what keeps him off the charts. He's perceived as being "too country," i.e., not homogenized enough for a generation raised on ersatz good ol' boys. On his third album's soaring title track, he invokes Buddy Holly's tender boyishness, while on the stampeding "It Tortures Me," Brown adds a searing edginess that puts to shame all the pretty boys in hats. Brown's songs are short, simple and direct, dealing with longing, love, good times and a deep and often dark spirituality that's unspoken but never unnoticed. Let Garth rack up the sales figures: Marty Brown's aching country soul is the answer to a prayer. (MCA)
>SHE'LL TAKE ROMANCE
BASIA TRZETRZELEWSKA'S IN LOVE. YOU CAN TELL BY SOME of the song titles on her latest album, The Sweetest Illusion: "Drunk on Love," "Rachel's Wedding," "Simple Pleasures." Or just ask the 34-year-old, Polish-born London singer herself. "If people ask what my job is," she says, "I say that I'm a housewife." The guy generating Basia's glow is her trumpet player, Kevin Robinson, one of her 12-member band. She fell for him while touring behind their 1989 album, London Warsaw New York. "We're not married," she says, "but it's almost the same."
Though she fancies herself more homebody than international diva, Basia claims that only a couple of the album's songs—"Yearning" and "My Cruel Ways"—were fired by her current relationship. Renewed lies to her family (her father is dead, but her mother, two brothers and a sister still live in Poland), with whom she lost touch while she was recording her second album and then touring, also whetted her creative appetite.
But it's Sting, whose Ten Summoner's Tales is the CD getting the heaviest rotation on Basia's player these days, whom she credits with giving her divine inspiration. And although the ex-Policeman—she met him earlier this year—told her the admiration was mutual, the modest Basia is not so sure. "I think he was just being polite," she says. "How could he be listening to us?"
- Tony Scherman,
- Roger Wolmuth,
- Jeremy Helligar,
- Amy Linden.