Orbitones, Fela Kuti, Jimmie Dale Gilmore

Orbitones, Spoon Harps N Bellowphones: Experimental Musical Instruments

Ellipsis Arts

There's a moment not long into Orbitones, Spoon Harps N Bellowphones when the word “alternative” takes on a new meaning. As Latvian composer Nick Soudnick coaxes a Fellini-esque melody out of a homemade scrap-metal instrument on “Back to the East,” it becomes apparent that this ain't your grandma's grunge collection. So it's not terribly surprising that Tom Waits would make an appearance on this, the latest assemblage from experimental music maker Hopkin—after all, the gravelly voiced hog caller himself penned the foreword to Hopkin's last project, Gravikords, Whirlies N Pyrophones. On “Babbachichuija,” Waits uses the persistent thumping of a washing machine's spin cycle, a squeaky door, and the high-pitched whine of a sewing machine to lay down a disturbing groove fit for an insomniac's waking nightmare. Aphex Twin, meanwhile, take a similar route by sampling a child's toy on “Bucephalus Bouncing Ball,” an apoplectic effort that struggles for coherency amid a gaggle of beeps, clicks and chirps. While initially cold and mechanical, the song soon takes on a funk-bot rhythm quite suitable for sweaty bootie-shaking. Hopkin even managed to round up a track from late old-school avant-garde composer John Cage, “Sonata XIV,” a haunting piece that uses the prepared piano technique he pioneered in the '40s. By placing assorted objects like metal bolts and plastic spoons between the piano's strings, Cage transforms the instrument into a humming, clanking tool capable of eliciting unsettling tones and stunning melodies. Orbitones is an oddball collection, the kind of jewel that, given the chance, will change the way you listen to music—and perhaps spur you into cannibalizing your broken-down Camaro for spare musical parts. (Mark Smith)

Fela Kuti The Best Best of Fela KutiMCA

Throughout the 1970s, Fela Anikulapo Kuti spent much of his time in jail, courtesy of the very same Nigerian military dictators who ultimately torched Fela's bohemian-anarchist compound, Kalakuta Republic. Politics didn't keep the singer down for long: he remained a superstar in Africa and Europe and gained the admiration of such Americans as David Byrne, Bill Laswell and Bootsy Collins before he died of AIDS in 1997 (at one point, he was married to 28 women simultaneously). The Best Best of Fela Kuti, MCA's greatest-hits package, is Fela's first domestic release, and it's a good way to get into the music of this very complicated man. Fela played sax and piano and sang in pidgin English, while the rest of his large band (dubbed, at various points, Afrika 70 and Egypt 80) played a sly mix of jazz, funk, rock and tribal rhythms that would come to be called Afro-beat. These recordings were digitally remastered for North American ears; if some of the raw feeling of the originals was lost in the process, Fela's slinky, sarcastic spirit remains. MCA will also release several of Fela's more foul-mouthed, life-affirming Afro-opuses later this year, any of which will surely be worth checking out. (Andrew Asch)


So what does one of Texas' great songwriters do on his first release in four years? Almost all covers. While we were anticipating a whole new batch of Jimmie Dale Gilmore tuneage, One Endless Night instead introduces us to JDG, interpretive singer. Drawing from the catalog of the Grateful Dead, John Hiatt, Townes Van Zandt, Walter Hyatt and Jesse Winchester, among others, this collection isn't exactly what we had in mind, but these tweaked versions of some well- and lesser-known numbers make for some riveting listening nonetheless. Surely Jimmie Dale's idiosyncratic voice—a distinctive, quavering, lonesome-sounding instrument that can either warm your insides or scare you shitless—is key to reshaping the material. But the new arrangements are wonderfully unusual, too. The Dead's “Ripple,” for example, practically becomes a dobro/ fiddle duet, while Hiatt's melancholy “Your Love Is My Rest” is warmer and dreamier than you would have ever thought possible. What Jimmie does to “Mack the Knife,” though, is reconstructive surgery: forget about the cheesy, up-tempo versions by Sinatra and Bobby Darin; instead, imagine a grinding tempo in which an upright bass, an acoustic guitar and a wailing Hammond B-3 form an unsettling mood in this suddenly sinister tale of foreboding. Now that's creepy. “DFW,” a hidden rockabilly track, is the lone song composed solely by JDG. While it sure would have been swell to hear more originals, hell, why nitpick? With its deliciously subversive approach, One Endless Night proves that some inspired surprises are pleasant, indeed. (John Roos)

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