Music reviews: Shabazz Palaces, Charles Lloyd, Circle and Laibach

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Shabazz Palaces: Quazarz: Born on a Gangster Star and Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines (Sub Pop): There is something so deeply refreshing about this project between Digable Planets rapper Ishmael Butler and Zimbabwean-American, multi-instrumentalist Tendai Maraire. So much contemporary hip hop, even that which purports to be somewhat experimental, tends to cover the same old familiar lyrical terrain, but this album and it’s “bonus” partner are definitely fresh. Much of the appeal of the 11-track Born on a Gangster Star lies in its connection to the space funk bent that manages to reference such late ’70s classics as P-Funk and Drexciya to contemporaries such as Cannibal Ox. The difference is how much Shabazz Palaces inhabit a smoother delivery such as the R&B croon of Shine a Light or almost straight-ahead rap of Fine Ass Hairdresser. While not the most adventurous record in terms of sonics — aside from a near-religious devotion to severe reverb on everything — the album flows well as a whole. That’s harder to say of many other outside hip-hop artists. Quazarz vs. The Jealous Machines is altogether more fun. Tracks such as 30 Clip Extension land like psychedelic ruminations on hip-hop celebrity — Lo and behold/look who it is/You favourite rapper/his jaws clenched in a Xanax glow — while Sabonim in the Saab on ’em is carried along on a truly inventive loop of brass, what sounds like percussive empty oil drums and assorted sampled electronic buzzes and vibraphones. 

Charles Lloyd New Quartet: Passin’ Thru (Blue Note): Saxophonist Lloyd has led his new quartet for a decade and pianist Jason Moran, bassist Reuben Rogers and drummer Eric Harland are all leaders in their own right as well. But backing the legendary bandleader on this live, seven-song collection, they sound like one solitary organism oozing out in all directions. The title track was originally recorded in 1963 when Lloyd was a member of the Chico Hamilton Quintet shortly before Lloyd formed his own legendary group with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Jack DeJohnette in 1965. That group would go on to be embraced by the hippie generation and perform at many major pop festivals before disbanding and this album’s opening tune, Dream Weaver, was a staple of concerts back then. Updated, the 17-plus minute workout is still a showpiece for Lloyd’s classic fluid tone. There are few musicians of his era left playing, let alone with the power and invention Lloyd still displays. Plus, he’s one of the rare, great, jazz-flute players and his workout on the instrument on the funky Tagore on the Delta is hard to sit still for. From classic post-bop swing (Nu Blues) to expansive atmospheric modern (Shiva Prayer), the group never comes off as anything but brilliant.

Circle: Terminal (Southern Lord): Finland’s Circle operates in a world of its own. One moment, the band is freaking out in a noise-rock howl, the next it’s into some hypnotic symphonic metal or vintage madrigalized progressive rock. And it can do that all in one song, as evidenced by the tune, Rakkautta Al Dente, which opens its latest record. Given this is the band that has produced everything from orchestras to metal so deadly it could melt permafrost, the consistent jam-band vibe of this album is a tad surprising. Don’t read that to mean Grateful Dead dreck, though. For every Sabbath-meets-Floyd-sounding-tune like Terminal, there is something like Imperiumi, which is about as classically Northern European power/progressive rock as can be. This might be one of the band’s most consistent albums from start to finish, but don’t take that to mean it drags. It’s just a bit surprising for this particular band to stick so much inside the heavy genre from beginning to end.

Laibach: Also Sprach Zarathustra (Mute): A Nietzsche philosophical novel, an avant-garde play based upon it and Slovenian avant-gloom crew Laibach providing the soundtrack. Now that sounds like something for both goths and giddy electronic and industrial fans to get excited about. But there is far more to this enduring group’s sound than any of those easy classifications. Updating the music it created for the play, the band manages to bring the same discomforting and foreboding feeling it did to its seminal covering of the Beatles,’ Let it Be. Single notes are struck and seem to go on forever before reverberating percussion stops them and the utterly emotion-free vocals come in Ein Verkündiger, while the Das Nachtlied I, II and III move from industrial pulses to a movement that could be artistic reinterpretation of what happens inside a particularly full dishwasher and back to synth-laden orchestration. No, it’s not for everyone. But it’s also easy to understand how the band has kept going for nearly four decades.

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