Barry White?!

Any chance BARRY WHITE ever had to be considered phat rather than merely fat was blown forever by James Brown on his relentlessly badass 1976 funk hit "Get up Offa That Thing." Amid all the hard-on-the-one grooves are grunts of appreciation for such fellow funkateers as the Ohio Players and Johnny Taylor. But in a moment of supreme pettiness (White's mainstream popularity was far eclipsing Brown's in 1976) toward the end of the song, Brown exclaims, "Barry White—I'M MAD!" Band members then chime in, "BARRY WHITE?!! . . . BARRY WHO?? . . .BARRY WHITEBOY!" Once a brother has been dissed by James Brown, the brother has truly been dissed.

It's not like James Brown was out-of-bounds, though. White's constipated groan of a voice gurgling libidinous exhortations atop overproduced tracks rife with washes of whinnying strings and cheesy wah-wah rhythm guitar on such '70s schlock-o-rama fare as "Can't Get Enough of Your Love, Babe," "Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up" and "You're the First, the Last, My Everything" are among the most insufferable examples of soulless soul imaginable. White had already descended into self-parody before anyone even knew who he was. How this gelatinous sac successfully brought himself off as a sex symbol for a number of years remains one of history's great mysteries.

White mercifully disappeared for about 15 years before re-emerging —against all odds—with 1994's platinum-selling album The Icon Is Love. He had, by then, slimmed down to a svelte 300 pounds or so (but he still looked capable of stinking up a bathroom more comprehensively than any quintet). Irony of ironies: his visibility has also gotten another recent kick in the ass from appearing on Ally McBeal, starring the antipodally anorexic Calista Flockhart. One gets the distinct impression that White's success in the '90s has been due more to misguided nostalgia for neutered '70s pap than anything else. If you must be entertained by stuck-in-the-'70s fat men this week, please stay home and watch Homer Simpson rather than support the unfairly rich and famous White on Tuesday night at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim.

EARTH, WIND & FIRE are double-billed with White on this unholy evening. I never loathed Earth, Wind & Fire with the passion reserved for White, a fat-assed turd with a face like a dried-out pecan. In fact, I found some of Earth, Wind & Fire's hits, such as "Shining Star," "Fantasy" and "Got to Get You Into My Life," downright enjoyable. But for all the undeniable technical dazzle they often produced, Earth, Wind & Fire were always a little too suspiciously clean and upbeat for my tastes, sort of like if the Up With People revue elected to play funk. Most (not all) good music has the threat of some malevolence bubbling under its surface; this is certainly true of the best funk (Brown, P-Funk, Mandrill, Johnny "Guitar" Watson, etc.). Then there's the fact that Earth, Wind & Fire brainchild Maurice White hasn't toured with the band in more than 10 years, although he continues to record with them. Make my funk da P-Funk; don't want my funk stepped on!

Ever hear of a piccolo that can blow a mean tenor sax and even pick a little guitar? Didn't think so. That's because former Roomful of Blues saxman/ vocalist GREG PICCOLO hasn't exactly had what you'd call a high-profile solo career since leaving the group at the beginning of the decade, although his hard-honking '40s style has been featured on high-profile albums by the likes of Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and Pat Benatar, among others.

Piccolo's three solo albums have showcased solid originals and inventive covers touching on the realm of jazz, blues, traditional R&B, rock, and a little Caribbean as well. But the real treat is yet to come: Piccolo is working on his first album of instrumentals, which will pay tribute to such sax heroes as Red Prysock, Ben Webster, Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and Sam Butera. Pick Piccolo on Thursday, Sept. 30 at the Blue Cafe.

A truly vintage swing blower performson Sunday when TEX BENEKE appears at Orange Coast College. Best-known as tenorman and vocalist with the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the '30s and '40s, Tex led the group following Miller's death in a 1944 plane crash; he has fronted his own big bands since the '50s, seemingly oblivious to every pop music trend of the past five decades. Sadly, now in his mid-'80s, Beneke is no longer able to blow a sax (his sound was solidly—if unspectacularly—from the sweet school, tailor-made for the poppish m.o. of the Miller orchestra), but he still sings up a storm, and his mere presence onstage is cause for celebration—the man is a living museum piece to the swing era. If we're dealing in nostalgia, it's best to take it from an octogenarian.

While we're on the subject of vintage jazz and swing, Rhino Records has done it again: their new four-disc box set, Central Avenue Sounds—Jazz in Los Angeles (1921-1956), may be the jazz reissue of the year. With 91 tracks—nearly five hours of music—the set spotlights the underrated scene that took place on LA's Central Avenue during the first half of the decade. Because the styles coming out of LA were so wildly eclectic and many of the name acts were transplants from other cities, LA never got its due as a jazz hot spot. This set proves that our neighbor to the north was nearly the equal of Chicago, New Orleans and Kansas City when it came to producing quality music.

Beginning with Kid Ory's Creole Jazz Band, Central Avenue Sounds encompasses a huge array of such legendary jazz performers as Jelly Roll Morton, Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton, Lester Young, Ernie Andrews, Dexter Gordon, Charles Mingus, Charlie Parker and Wardell Gray; such blues/R&B titans as T-Bone Walker, Pee Wee Crayton, Johnny Otis, Roy Milton, Joe and Jimmy Liggins, Hadda Brooks, Percy Mayfield, and Jimmy Witherspoon; such jive entertainers as Slim Galliard, Nat "King" Cole, Hadda Brooks, Big Jay McNeely, Camille Howard and the little-known but sublime Nellie Lutcher; plus dozens of others. Many cuts are making their CD debuts here as well.

Of course, no four-disc set can be all-inclusive (where are Art Pepper and Gerry Mulligan, for example?), but Rhino comes close, presenting LA jazz in all its mutations and permutations. It's a glorious listen and an important history lesson from beginning to end.

Barry White and Earth, Wind & Fire play at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, 2695 E. Katella Ave., Anaheim, (714) 704-2400. Tues., 7:30 p.m. $20-$60; Greg Piccolo performs at the Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach, (562) 983-7111. Thurs., Sept. 30, 10 p.m. $6; Tex Beneke and the Modernaires play at the Robert B. Moore Theatre, Orange Coast College, 2701 Fairview Rd., Costa Mesa, (714) 432-5880. Sun., 4 p.m. $24-$31.


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