George Clinton and the P-Funk Allstars
T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M. (550 Music/Epic 67144)
It's one of the great ironies of modern funk that even as hip-hop auteurs like Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Warren G crib from the '70s sound of George Clinton's Parliament and Funkadelic, Clinton and the current set of P-Funk Allstars are perfecting an entirely new strain of funk. That's why the pulse that powers "T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M." sounds little like the music Cube and Dre make; Clinton and his crew are much more interested in computerized rhythms and high-tech grooves than their young disciples. Yet even though Clinton doesn't make music the old-fashioned way, his brand of funk still seems truer to the original P-Funk than any of those rap-bred variants. Of course, some of that may have to do with the fact that this current crew of P-Funkateers includes such vets as Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Michael Hampton, "Billy Bass" Nelson, "Blackbyrd" McKnight, "Catfish" Collins and Gary "Mudbone" Cooper -- names almost any funk fanatic would recognize as being among the genre's greatest stars. But as always with funk albums, what matters isn't the individual performances but the collaborative genius of group groove. (This, true believers will tell you, is what Clinton means by "T.A.P.O.A.F.O.M." -- that is, "The Awesome Power Of A Fully-Operational Mothership.") So even though Erick Sermon and MC Breed get star billing on "If Anybody Gets Funked Up" and Gap Band member Charlie Wilson gets the nod for "New Spaceship," it's the Allstars as a whole who shine -- and who ultimately get this mothership off the ground.
The Road to Ensenada (Curb/MCA 11409)
Given the number of lost-love songs sprinkled through "The Road to Ensenada," it's easy to imagine that Lyle Lovett is merely rehashing the well-publicized failure of his marriage to actress Julia Roberts. But it only seems that way if you focus on the words; listen to the music, and it becomes clear that what this album is really about is the way country music's heartbreak and bravado are really just two sides of the same coin. There is, after all, something equally inflexible about the protagonists in both "Don't Touch My Hat" and "I Can't Love You Anymore"; even though one pretends to cherish his hat more than his girl while the other is too wounded by his lover's behavior to carry on, each ultimately turns pride into a protective cover he hopes will keep him from feeling loss. And just as Lovett's lyrics spin subtle variations on the same themes, so too does the seemingly wide range of music -- which includes everything from the mock-Caribbean pulse of "Her First Mistake" to the Western swing of "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)," to the good-time R&B; of "Long Tall Texan" -- remind us of just how broad the boundaries of country music have become. All told, "The Road to Ensenada" is definitely a trip worth taking.
Odelay (DGC 24823)
It would have been easy -- not to mention spectacularly profitable -- for Beck to have turned the follow-up "Mellow Gold" into a sort of "Son of 'Loser,'" working simple variations on the slacker wit and folkie rap that made "Loser" a winner. Instead, he's done something better. "Odelay" is a stunning amalgam of musical styles, mixing classic riffs and pop cast-offs so completely that it's as if Beck loaded his record collection into a blender and punched "puree." Yet as varied as the influences are -- "Hotwax," for instance, moves from bottleneck country blues to Stax-style funk to fuzz-box psychedelia in less than two verses -- the music never sounds jumbled or contrived. Like the best DJs, Beck understands how a cheesy pop jingle might lead into a dark, jazz-flavored rock tune ("The New Pollution"), or how the right slice from a soul single might energize a garage-rock rap number ("Novacane"). But as much as the music relies on found sound and samples, it never sounds like cut-and-paste work. There's always a live groove at the heart of these tunes, and that's what makes the playing on "Devil's Haircut," "Where It's At" or "High 5 (Rock the Catskills)" carry the kick of a great rock show. And when Beck shifts gears, moving to the softer sound of "Ramshackle" or the punk intensity of "Minus," the results are every bit as credible as the funky stuff. Clearly the work of a major artist.
Conversin' With the Elders (Atlantic 82908)
With so many young jazzmen worried about how to position themselves in the market (traditionalist? radical? neo-bopper? fusion hero?), it's a relief to hear a player whose major interest lies in simply establishing his own sound. So even though the duets that constitute James Carter's "Conversin' With the Elders" may seem arranged to show off the saxophonist's standing in the jazz pantheon, what they really reveal is just how distinctive his voice can be. After all, these aren't just any collaborators -- such soloists as Lester Bowie, Harry "Sweets" Edison, Hamiet Bluiett and Buddy Tate are extremely distinctive players, and any musician lacking a strong identity is simply going to fade into the background beside them. Carter, though, has no trouble holding his own, moving as easily as Bowie from tropical languor to glass-breaking dissonance in "Freereggaehibop," or swinging like an old pro alongside Edison on "Lester Leaps In." Best of all, there's an excitement to the playing that makes each collaboration seem as electric as an after-hours cutting contest. Here's hoping more jazz youngsters can talk like this with their elders.
Pub Date: 6/20/96