July 17, 2002

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Dillinja and Lemon D
Big Bad Bass (Valve/UK)

Big Bad Bass is an album title so ridiculously elementary it sounds like it comes from Sesame Street. But it's a good descriptor for what lies within: streetwise drum 'n' bass that often consists of nothing more than jackhammer breaks, sparse melodic touches, and rumbling, critical low end.

While the formula behind the latest outing from veteran DJ-producers Dillinja and Lemon D is simple, it would be a mistake to call this album simplistic. It has taken many years for the duo to perfect their trademark nasty, gut-wrenching bass. In fact, this record is purpose-built: the pair have spent the past two years constructing the Valve sound system, a special traveling sound system just for drum 'n' bass, and they needed some tracks that would push the speakers to their limits.

The resulting 10 tracks may not achieve their full glory via your crappy JVC boom box, but the core feeling – one of complete dance-floor mayhem – still shines through. Tracks such as "Thugged Out Bitch" and "Leopard Skin Guntees" are as much about lifestyle as rocking the party; with their seething samples and catchy drops, they're more reminiscent of early gangsta rap than today's smoothed-out, prototrancey drum 'n' bass sound.

"It Ain't Too Loud" is probably the best example of what the boys are after. The track kicks off with an exasperated-sounding Dillinja explaining how he needs to hear his records, as if he is talking to a frustrated sound engineer who's afraid he's going to blow the speaker stacks. "These people ain't 'eard this bass before," he opines. "I keep tellin' ya, it's the right level ... to me anyway. I prefer to feel it in my chest than to not feel it."

The talking drops out, incoming video-game noises begin Pong-ing out of control, the grittiest, most monstrous bass stabs come storming in one by one – and that's just the intro. After Dillinja sneers, "It ain't too loud," the tune erupts into a gigantic fuck you to "nice" music everywhere, all swaggering sandblasts and boom-clacking breaks for five minutes of the nastiest, most intense release this side of a massage-parlor hand job. Dillinja and Lemon D play Sun/21, Compression, the Cellar, S.F. (415) 441-5678. (Vivian Host)

Wayne Shorter

Footprints Live! (Verve)

Jilted Wayne Shorter-lovers unite! You have nothing to lose but your doubts. If you had given up hope that the legendary jazz saxophonist would ever again record an acoustic album as a leader (his last was Schizophrenia, in 1966) or that you would hear an hour plus of music in 2002 that that lives up to the standards Shorter set for himself in Art Blakey's late-'50s Jazz Messengers, on his mid-'60s Blue Note albums, and as a member of the 1964-70 Miles Davis bands, Footprints Live! will fan the smoldering coals of your affection to a fiery roar.

If you've come to jazz more recently (sometime since Shorter and Joe Zawinul's all-star fusion band Weather Report broke up in 1985), you might not comprehend Shorter's iconic status as a composer and improviser who has influenced legions of musicians in the past four decades. These quartet performances, recorded last July at festivals in Spain, France, and Italy, provide the evidence that's been in short supply for 17 years.

While it could have been yet another major-label concept album, showcasing Shorter and seven of his original pieces (plus Sibelius's Valse triste) in a hip, young setting with Panamanian pianist Danilo Perez, Chick Corea-schooled bassist John Patitucci, and peripatetic drummer Brian Blade (who has worked with Joshua Redman, Emmylou Harris, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell), the cross-generational all-star project plays out with an engrossing spirit of ensemble empathy and on-the-spot creativity. Shorter plays tenor on all but one track, soprano on "Go," and both on "Footprints" and "JuJu." His tone, at once strapping and flexible, communicates poignancy without sentimentality. A master storyteller, he amasses his off-the-beat phrasing into intensely churning waves, which the band negotiates with the same aplomb it applies to the many more spacious and reflective passages, all in all making Footprints Live! essential Shorter listening. (Derk Richardson)

Dabrye

Instrmntl (Eastern Developments)

One of the most intriguing new microgenres in the increasingly stratified world of electronic music is click-hop, a cool confection of errant bleeps and blips layered over hip-hop tracks. Last year its most famous practitioner, Scott Herren, impressed both rap and laptop fans with his debut album, Vocal Studies and Uprock Narratives, under the name Prefuse 73. Far from a traditional effort, Vocal Studies wedded cut-and-paste experiments with plaintive, ear-catching melodies and popular underground MCs like MF Doom and Mikah Nine, crafting a rhythmic exoskeleton that was daringly minimalist and funky all at once. Dabrye, a pseudonym for electronic producer Tadd Mullinix, followed Prefuse 73's lead with his own One/Three last year, aping many of Prefuse's techniques while focusing less on dissonance and more on elastic, club-friendly beats.

Released on Prefuse 73's own Eastern Developments label, Dabrye's follow-up, Instrmntl, sets out to expand the click-hop vocabulary with mixed results. A series of brainteasers, it opens with "Intrdctn," which begins with a grandiose string crescendo typically found on a disco epic before quickly segueing into a buttery 75-bpm rhythm driven by a filtered sitar sample. More audaciously, "You Know the Formula Right?" kicks out 28 monotonous bars of funky drumming before busting out a snazzy keyboard melody to ride over it. But then there are cuts like "No Child of God," where Dabrye works up a heavy synth track reminiscent of Heaven 17, but with no distinguishable vocals or chord changes, it comes off as another anonymous breakbeat.

There's much to enjoy on Instrmntl, especially smooth dub tracks like "Evelyn" and "D-Town Tabernacle Choir." But as a "mini-album" clocking in at just over 30 minutes, Instrmntl feels more like a compilation of DJ-friendly tracks than anything complete. It's sweet, sugary, and just innovative enough to frustrate listeners wishing for a little more substance. Dabrye plays Wed/17, Amnesia, S.F. (415) 970-8336. (Mosi Reeves)

Raphael Saadiq

Instant Vintage (Universal)

Former Tony! Toni! Tone! and Lucy Pearl frontperson Raphael Saadiq's first full-length solo effort plays a bit like a drunken one-night stand: it's off the hook while you're getting busy with it, but afterward, it's one big blur. That isn't to say, however, that Instant Vintage isn't enjoyable at times. Hell, even the sloppiest of one-nighters has its inspired moments. And at least there's no hangover from Saadiq's brand of lovin'.

That said, it's difficult to put a finger on just what makes the album fall short of the greatness it aspires to. Proclaiming himself "an ancient to future brother" and touting a new sound he calls "gospedelic soul" on the opening track, "Doing What I Can," Saadiq assembles a thoroughly interesting and eclectic set of tunes, once again bringing in the lush sounds of the South Central Chamber Orchestra (as he did on the Lucy Pearl album) and proving that one can, indeed, build some sexy stuff around a tuba line ("OPH"). Yet although Saadiq has struck gold time and time again for other folks, penning hits for D'Angelo ("Lady," "Untitled") and Angie Stone ("Brotha"), he never quite manages to hit the sweet spot – that thick, creamy center the best soul music is built around – those artists did with his material. And thus, since we know Saadiq is a skilled songsmith with a proven track record, it seems Instant Vintage's shortcomings may have something to do with the Oaktown boy's underlying intent, a need to establish himself as a solo artist and prove that he too can hold center stage.

The best tracks are the ones featuring guest artists. "Be Here" (a duet with D'Angelo) is a slyly arousing seducer, while "Different Time" (featuring T-Boz from TLC) sports a kickback groove and a sweet, I'm-still-standing world-weariness. Problem is, though, Saadiq winds up spreading himself too thin on the remainder of the album's 19 numbers, trying on disparate personas with each and every tune (i.e., Mack Daddy Supreme on "Body Parts" and Sensitive Mack Daddy on "You're the One That I Like") without ever hitting a solid stride, and ultimately, never really letting us get to know the guy we were so down to climb into bed with in the first place. (Sylvia W. Chan)