by Mike Corrigan and Michael Bowen
Pavement: Slanted & amp; Enchanted - Luxe & amp; Reduxe (Matador) -- Pavement made few inroads into the commercial rock mainstream (thankfully, they did everything they could to tear ass in the other direction). But to indie kids who eschewed the loud, grunge-inspired, so-called "alternative" rock "revolution" of the '90s for something smarter, quirkier and more ironic, Pavement was the only band that really mattered. Ten years down the road, Slanted & amp; Enchanted still sounds innovative and inspiring. Matador's two-disc re-issue of the band's seminal 1992 debut includes the re-mastered original together with six tracks from the S & amp;E sessions, the entire (and quite excellent) Watery Domestic EP, BBC John Peel sessions and 13 previously unreleased live tracks recorded at London's Brixton Academy in 1992. That's 48 tracks in all. All this, bound in a slipcase together with a 62-page color booklet with notes from each band member. --Mike Corrigan
Camper Van Beethoven: Cigarettes & amp; Carrot Juice: The Santa Cruz Years, Five-CD box set (SpinArt) -- In the mid-'80s, when the phrase "alternative rock" still meant something, Camper Van Beethoven, a band of Santa Cruz smart alecks with great chops and a devastating sense of humor, was churning out sardonic mini-masterpieces incorporating every musical influence that struck its collective fancy -- from country, punk, pop and ska to Cajun, raga and middle-eastern textures. And there was far more to these guys than their infectious college radio hit (and current Bowling For Columbine theme song) "Take the Skinheads Bowling" would initially indicate. Under the cover of their "surrealist absurdist folk," the band shot funny sarcastic barbs at everyone in pop culture -- at both ends of the commercial spectrum. The group dissolved in 1990, and its frontman, David Lowery, went on to form Cracker. This box set from SpinArt features the group's highly entertaining, wildly schizophrenic (and best) first three albums (Telephone Free Landslide Victory, II & amp; III and Camper Van Beethoven) plus the previously released oddities collection Camper Vantiquities and a previously unreleased live disc. --M.C.
Sleater-Kinney: One Beat (Kill Rock Stars) -- Writing well-crafted political rock songs is no easy task. For every eloquent, topical song out there, there are five ballads that glorify knee-jerk violence in the name of nationalism. On Sleater-Kinney's latest, One Beat, the personal and the political coalesce to become one effort of brilliant lyricism that is as intimate as it is comprehensive. Corin Tucker, Carrie Brownstein and Janet Weiss combine a sobering political/feminist consciousness with incredibly exciting and smart rock 'n' roll. There are very good reasons why Sleater-Kinney is widely considered to be one of the most vital rock bands on the planet and why One Beat is lodged so firmly in critics' Top Ten lists for 2002. --M.C.
Neko Case: Blacklisted (Bloodshot) -- While Shania Twain typifies the crass marketing strategies, creative void and moral bankruptcy of the commercial country music industry, literate, independent souls such as Neko Case have been quietly re-affirming the honesty and power of the genre, keeping the triumphant, tortured hearts of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline burning bright in the darkest night. Though not strictly a country album, Blacklisted's moody and haunting atmospherics -- sparsely populated by acoustic and electric guitars, deep-mix drumming and Case's incredibly complex, powerful and emotive vocals -- effectively evoke visions of rural ghosts, lonely backroads at dusk and that inexorable reach for a hazily defined immortality. She writes using a strong, firmly feminist voice in an oblique yet approachable style. The results are, almost uniformly, sublime. -- M.C.
Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra: Roy Harris, Symphony No. 3; Randall Thompson, Symphony No. 2; David Diamond, Symphony No. 4 (Sony Classical) -- This is music of the lesser Coplands. In these symphonies of the '30s and '40s, recorded a couple of decades later, Lenny elicits from the New Yorkers the kind of patriotism-in-melody that we associate with the composer of Appalachian Spring and Rodeo. Thompson, in fact, wrote a musical tribute to Robert Frost; Harris composed "Folksong" and "Abraham Lincoln" symphonies.
Thompson's third movement (Vivace) shows a jazz influence, opening with a striding bass, then lofting the violins in syncopated rhythm while flutes hop erratically. In the conclusion to Harris' hymn-like single movement, violins shimmer under the woodwinds, resolving their struggle just before some final cannon shots from the brass. If these works can't be seen as Aaron, at least they don't err in glossing the American experience. Our national aspirations have seldom seemed less jaundiced or more luxuriant. -- Michael Bowen
Borodin String Quartet: Borodin, String Quartets No. 1 in A and No. 2 in D (EMI) -- Alexander Borodin stares out blankly from his picture, a thick-necked oaf. But in the summer of 1881, lounging at his dacha in Zhitovo, celebrating the 20th anniversary of his engagement, he was in love -- and in the luxurious melodies of the second and better known of his two quartets, it shows. Even in the neglected first quartet (which Borodin labored over for six years), the impassioned conclusions of the first two movements look forward to the lyricism of the quartet in D (which took him only two months to complete).
In 1953, the arrangers of Kismet rummaged through Borodin's music, filching from Prince Igor, the second symphony and this second quartet. The irony, of course, is that what was taken from Borodin served, in part, to repopularize his music.
For appearances can deceive: Borodin played three instruments, spoke five languages and was a renowned research chemist. Some oaf. But what a melodist. --M.B.
Clifford Brown-Max Roach Quintet: Study in Brown (EmArcy) -- In Side Man (performed at Interplayers in 2001), Clifford Brown is the trumpeter that all the jazzmen idolize. Starting in 1954, he and drummer Max Roach teamed up on such classic hard bop albums as Roach & amp; Brown in Concert and Brown/Roach Inc. Just two years later, at the age of only 25, Brown died in a car accident.
The opening number, "Cherokee," starts with pounding, vaguely American Indian drums. Brown takes a long solo, with Roach keeping frenetic time.
One surprise on re-Study is the amount of space Brown allows to the West Coast cool tenor of Harold Land, whose solos here on sax are nearly as expansive as Brown's own.
The Brown-Roach version of "Take the A Train" starts with tapping cymbals and bass chords on Richie Powell's piano, then accelerates into braying horns which soften as the locomotive fades into the distance. It's a ride worth taking. -- M.B.
Joshua Redman: Elastic (Warner Bros.) -- Sometimes experiments indicate the road not to be taken. In his ninth album, saxophonist Joshua Redman deserts the acoustic piano of Aaron Goldberg for the synthesizers and electric organs of Sam Yahel.
In effect, Redman is stepping away from his bop roots and toward electric jazz and the avant-garde: laudable, and, yes, elastic. But Yahel, in contrast to his work on yaya3, gives in to the excesses of the old organ trio format. One of the better tracks, "Molten Soul," is also one of the most melodic -- at least until Yahel's synthesizer intrudes. Redman describes the tempo as "funk and swing at the same time." On "Still Pushin' That Rock," however, Yahel's self-indulgent solo devolves into a cacophonous ending. No surprise, then, that the frontman remarks, "I don't know what kind of beat you'd call that." n --M.B.