Arts and Entertainment
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
Grand Opening and Closing (Seeland)
The question with this record is whether there's a point to listening to it. Not because it's traditional prog rock made in the year 2000 (!) but because SLPTMGRLMSM put on such a three cock-ring circus of a live show that without them parading around in their dead-clown outfits and sallow makeup and without the astounding sonic pyrotechnics they pull off right before your very eyes, what is there to draw you the listener in? This fact puts the band in a tight spot, as their songs now have to be strong enough to keep the interest of their loyal, visually addicted following. The last time I listened to KFOG, they still hadn't added Sleepytime Gorilla Museum's diabolical brew of prog rock, speed metal, and vocal gymnastics (the violin player's voice alone is worth the price of admission) to the playlist; chances are most of the folks buying the CD have seen the band live.
Thankfully, the songs more than hold their own; for the most part the combination of surrealism and technical proficiency breaks through with enough of the band's semicomical character to breathe life into what they're doing and save them from the danger of stiff delivery so often the case when a band takes intricate, well-thought-out music into the studio. The other good thing about this record is that when a song is hitting minute number eight and you're still waiting for that wicked awesome part (there's one in every song), you don't have to be standing. These songs are great; it's just that a lot of them start small, with clocks ticking and music boxes tinkling poetry being read even.
I usually wait through that set-the-stage stuff kind of impatiently, but all is forgiven when they start playing the bizarre metal licks, and in ridiculous time signatures, like 13/7. Is that even a time signature? I don't know, ask Will York. Anyway, a song like "Powerless," which has this guitar that comes in like a bird hitting the big window in the front room, is truly amazing live, as is the twisting, mazelike "Ambugaton." They work just as well on the album, and they don't make your ankles hurt. I'm pretty sure that I've got the song titles right, but my copy of the CD is cracked down the middle, so I was only able to listen to it like twice before the CD player caught on and shut the whole operation down. (Mike McGuirk)
Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio
Supernova (Blue Note)
Being a piano virtuoso isn't easy when your heart keeps spilling out from under your sleeve. Just ask Gonzalo Rubalcaba, heir apparent to Chucho Valdés's Afro-Cuban piano jazz throne (though anyone who's heard Valdés's recent live album knows Chooch isn't going anywhere anytime soon) and newly minted U.S. resident (he and his family recently relocated to Miami). Ever since Rubalcaba made his professional U.S. concert debut in 1993, a breathtaking performance at Lincoln Center captured on Imagine: Gonzalo Rubalcaba in the USA, the classically trained, Dizzy-mentored maestro has flipped incessantly between crashing chords and hushed legatos, his breakneck strides often highlighting the beautiful restraint of his balladry.
Rubalcaba's quiet side has enamored him to many a merlot-sipping jazz dilettante, folks basking in the soft glow of the pianist's recent collaboration with bassist Charlie Haden (on last year's Nocturne, a twilight-tinged collection of boleros) or 1999's Inner Voyage, a heartfelt, if overly subdued, trio outing with bassist Jeff Chambers and drummer Ignacio Berroa. Now don't get me wrong: I'm all for pretty introspection and languid tones, but it seemed all boleros and no mambos were beginning to make Gonzalo a very dull boy.
So thank goodness for last summer's Supernova, a feisty bunch of tracks built out of outrageously complex heads, elegant syncopations, a few fusion-flavored synths, and a mambo so jubilant I mea culpa'd all doubts. Rubalcaba's current trio, with Berroa and bassist Carlos Henriquez, digs into the material at hand with soulful zeal, shading the dizzying rhythms of both versions of the title track (Rubalcaba originals) with melodic accessibility, and displaying a refreshingly tongue-and-cheek romanticism on "El cadete constitucional," a distinctly Cuban court romp written by Rubalcaba's grandfather some 100 years ago. However, it's a rendition of the oft-recorded "El manicero (The Peanut Vendor)" which, incidentally, Valdés also exquisitely covered on his aforementioned live album an exuberantly bounce-inducing hip swiveler, that proves the fire in Rubalcaba's heart and hands is, without a doubt, still burning strong. The Gonzalo Rubalcaba Trio plays through Sun/20, Yoshi's, Oakl. (510) 238-9200. (Sylvia W. Chan)
The No-Neck Blues Band
Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones but Names Will Never Hurt Me (Revenant)
An instant collector's item by virtue of its packaging a plastic CD tray glued to a piece of plywood (with NNCK branded on it), with a cover of clear Plexiglas held in place at the four corners by small triangles of Velcro this latest opus of hazy jams preserves the anonymity of what was allegedly the late John Fahey's favorite band. A paper band around the handcrafted assemblage bears an extended fortune cookie axiom as cryptic as the music within "A sense of movement, capable of perceiving the irresistible developments hidden in extreme slowness ..." and so on. And the foldout paper insert includes four numbered messages, such as "Back to the Omind (I'd Rather Not Go)," that may or may not have anything to do with the seven tracks of music (produced by Jerry Yester of Lovin' Spoonful and Tim Buckley fame) on the unmarked CD.
Eye-wearying Web searches turned up a few names out of supposedly eight band members; references to three other CDs, musical tree branches and hubcaps, rooftop concerts, and communal digs in Harlem; and evidence that NNCK fans also like Half Japanese, Jim O'Rourke, Charley Patton, Derek Bailey, Fred Frith and Chris Cutler, Young Marble Giants, and the Chicago Underground Duo. Ear-tingling and mind-scrambling bouts of listening have yielded a few barely discernible lyrics, including "I curse that mountain Rocky Top, lost my baby-o," and fantasies of the Holy Modal Rounders setting their controls for the heart of the sun in a pot-smoke haze with a Native American peyote ritual going on in the kitchen. NNCK's banjos and guitars spastically plucked in and out of tune, whooshing and slapping percussion, droning harmonica, squeeze toys, nightmare whimpers, Appalachian death ballads, and sighing vocals as graspable as a handful of water are the product of either genius or dementia, perhaps both. (Derk Richardson)