Picks and Pans Main: Song
LIVING IN THE CREST OF A WAVE
Miles Davis has performed with a fair assortment of saxophone players—Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Benny Carter, Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter among them. That Evans has been playing with Davis since 1980 is proof enough of his talent, but Living in the Crest of a Wave (Elektra Musician), his first album under his own name, clinches the argument. Evans has depth and a coherent melodic imagination; his solos have a sense of completeness to them. He can play the notes in a nice, straightforward, linear way too, without losing nuances, so that being a leader doesn’t overwhelm him. He plays tenor, flute and synthesizers on this album, which ranges from the ethereal Dawn (In Wisconsin North Woods) to a quietly driving Past Thoughts. His five sidemen include Mitch Foreman, who has some impressively eclectic, Keith Jarrett-like moments on piano. Evans also appears on a couple of tracks of Davis’ Decoy (Columbia), which affords a typically generous amount of solo time for everybody. The saxophonist on three other tracks is Branford Marsalis, trumpeter Wynton’s brother and a prodigy in his own right. Davis’ real supporting star in any case is guitarist John Scofield, who wanders most impressively in, over, around and through That’s Right, a tune he wrote with Davis. The old master trumpeter himself is, at 58, increasingly spare, but if anyone ever made every note count, it’s Davis. As producer, he also set himself up in some Miles Davis-duets-with-Miles Davis situations, with the cool, choosy version dubbing himself over lowered-volume tracks of his more explosive self. The effect, particularly on Code M.D., is gorgeous, like a close-up photograph of a beautiful candle with a roaring fire out of focus in the background. This is a rich album, full of the kind of tension between control and fury that makes for great jazz.
THE PROS AND CONS OF HITCHHIKING
Even though Pink Floyd, the seminal English rock group, more or less disbanded last year, its fans can be consoled that The Final Cut (its last album) was not a mortal wound. Guitarist David Gilmour’s solo album, About Face, has met considerable success, and now Waters, the group’s bass player and creative force, has come across with a gem that has all the earmarks of a great Floyd opus. The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, like Animals, The Wall or in fact most Floyd albums, is built around a single concept: in this case, an early morning dream cycle. Anyone familiar with Waters’ dark, fatalistic vision will know that this must include elements of a nightmare. 4:50 AM (Go Fishing) begins sweetly enough as the story of a young family that moves to the wilderness to live off the land. The bucolic dream soon unravels: “The kids caught bronchitis/The space heater ran out of diesel/One weekend a friend from the East/Rot his soul/Stole your heart.” The album takes rapid, seemingly unconnected leaps; the title cut, for instance, refers to a Hell’s Angel, Dick Tracy, Yoko Ono and Shane (Jack Palance, the villain of that old Western, appears in Waters’ video for the song). David Sanborn contributes some wrenching sax to the mix, and Eric Clapton uncorks some of his best guitar playing in years, especially the graceful blues licks on 4:41 AM (Sexual Revolution) and the haunting slide guitar on 4:33 AM (Running Shoes). Waters is a master at rock dynamics, building the music up again and again from a despairing whisper to an indignant scream: That ear for dynamics is one of the reasons Dark Side of the Moon has stayed on the charts for 10 years. On a song from Pink Floyd’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here, a record company executive foolishly asks the band, “Oh, by the way, which one’s Pink?” With The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking, Roger Waters has all but answered that question. (Columbia)
THESE THINGS HAPPEN
David Van Tieghem
In 1981 David Byrne’s brimming score for Twyla Tharp’s dance The Catherine Wheel got short shrift in the rush to analyze the choreographer’s heavy symbolism. When Tharp’s thrilling Fait Accompli debuted in New York last January, though, the dance critics gave due credit to the music by percussionist Van Tieghem, Like The Catherine Wheel, These Things Happen (Van Tieghem’s title for the Fait Accompli score) is a shifting montage of acoustic and electronic sounds creating a juggernaut of danceable rhythm and elusive melody. The 45-minute LP consists of discrete segments of about two to six minutes each. Some stop abruptly, others dissolve into the next smoothly or with a percussive crash. Van Tieghem draws from an enormous range of sound sources, some obvious (like saxophones and guitars), some semi-obvious (like raking one’s fingers over a piano’s undamped strings) and some playfully unexpected (like a wine bottle, balloons, metal ashtrays, a drafting stool and a comb). The score ranges widely in emotional terms as well. Much of the first half is brooding, disturbing, monomaniacal in tone. As the drums churn, conjuring up images primal as well as contemporary, background voices murmur, yelp, wail or express bewilderment. In the title segment, pilots converse murkily over radios, the music builds to an actual explosion, and sirens pierce the background as the section ends. After this climax, suggesting the Korean Air Lines incident, the music uncoils and turns elegiac, releasing echoes of Steve Reich. Van Tieghem has drummed with David Byrne and Brian Eno as well as Pink Floyd, and he has worked in performance art and video. The audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music last January seemed to be as blown away by his score as they were by Tharp’s shattering choreography and Jennifer Tipton’s all-important lighting scheme. Lacking lyrics, These Things Happen may not stand on its own as well as The Catherine Wheel has, but if you turn up the volume its best parts can overwhelm you. (Warner Brothers)
BORN IN THE U.S.A.
Springsteen is the John Riggins of rock. Riggins, the Washington Redskins fullback, is known for barreling straight ahead, no cute stuff, no surprises. He guts it out, going straight for the goal line. Bruce is like that too, which is one reason he’s called the Boss. In the title cut of his seventh album—and first with the E Street Band since 1980—Bruce and the group are, however, like the Redskins in last January’s Super Bowl. He keeps singing—hoarsely screaming, actually—the same line (“Bawwwwwrn in the U-S-Ayyyy”) over and over and getting stopped cold at the line of scrimmage. The song goes nowhere, but it sure tears up the turf trying. Why is Springsteen making such a point of this statement? Does he think it’s in dispute? Maybe he sees it as a cross to bear. In any case, once he gets that off his chest, he’s ready for some good music making. He offers no surprises of theme or imagery: Show him a pretty girl, and he will promise her anything and mean it, especially if she happens to be sitting on the hood of his big old Buick. The work is gritty and the hours are long, and you know the rest. No matter. Springsteen’s patented gift of romanticizing the mundane is in stirringly full force. Musically the album conveys the intensity the E Street Band is known for, but such tender, quietly sung songs as My Hometown, I’m On Fire and Downbound Train showcase a new flexibility of dynamics, tempo and rhythm. These sound like Nebraska with a band, but you can’t knock that. Quintessentially Bruceian, but especially intriguing, is his declaration in Cover Me: “I’m looking for a lover who can come on in and cover me.” Men of Bruce’s generation know the last two words from having grown up watching World War II movies, where soldiers say, “Cover me.” Bruce says, “Cover me.” Somehow the change in emphasis gives the old Sands of two Jima association a new twist, of someone hurling him or herself on a burning man to smother the flames. Bruce does sound as if he’s burning alive in this song. You want to cover him, and you don’t. The flame seems too big to smother, (Columbia)
Intense, dark, passionate and sexy, the British-born Lamb, 26, is an angst rocker with a relieving wit thrown in. In So Lucky in Bed, for example, she sings, “Someone told me you were crazy/Something tells me they were right/Like a werewolf with a problem/You can’t be alone at night.” A former nurse who met some success here last year with her first album (Once Bitten), Lamb sometimes affects the zombie-like atonality that’s chic among modern young female vocalists, but she can lapse into singing in tune, too, as she shows in the quiet Dream Boy. Lamb wrote nine of the LP’s 10 tunes and also plays keyboards as part of a rhythm section that provides a surging, hypnotic backdrop to her music. Such titles as Weapon of Love, Things That I Fear and Inside of My Head do not exactly incline one toward a carefree, kick-off-the-shoes mood, but The Flame is no introspective nightmare either. It’s pop music that credits its audience with having both intelligence and a sense of humor. (A&M)