December 01, 1980 12:00 PM

Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band

Don Van Vliet (a/k/a Captain Beefheart) occupies a netherworld of genius that only occasionally collides with convention. Consider the mind that would title one of his songs A Carrot Is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond. Van Vliet, a hybrid of Woody Allen and Igor Stravinsky, blurts out lines like “Send your mother home your navel” over a complex of sounds ranging from Chinese opera gongs to blasts from his own Coltrane-like sax. (Van Vliet, 39, is backed by a five-man group that sounds like a big band, with little overdubbing.) It seems anarchic, but Van Vliet’s work is to music what Twyla Tharp’s choreography is to dance: precision masquerading as disarray. His artistic instincts surface primarily in his work as a painter and sculptor; music is an avocation for him. Yet the LP, even without his powerful artwork on the cover, would be a gift for those who loathe what they hear on the Top 40.

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