Sokol / Brasby
Having established themselves as Rochester's finest DJ duo with their Profiles release, DJs Wagun and Brasby (known collectively as Discolobos) have decided to split, à la Outkast, into their respective identities and release two solo albums that demand your immediate attention. But while Outkast tries to maintain a unified appearance while sounding anything but, Wagun and Brasby's solo joints offer valuable insights into the sounds that are pieces of Discolobos' whole.
Wagun's Sokol is breezy and light, a soulful little joint that includes collaborations with "Discolobos' newest discovery" Ellis and the city's finest freestyler, Hasaan. Brasby has an album of darker, more atmospheric tracks, most featuring the aforementioned Ellis and appropriately called Glitch Beats. With Wagun's earthiness and Brasby's synthetic tinkering, Discolobos has become more than simply the sum of its parts.
--- Tim Goodwin
Ladysmith Black Mambazo
Raise Your Spirit Higher/Wenyukela
When Paul Simon traveled to South Africa to record Graceland in the mid-1980s, no shortage of controversy erupted over his appropriation of the music of another culture. But if Simon had not made that record, would the rest of the world ever have come to know the wonders of Joseph Shabalala and his wonderful group? Ladysmith Black Mambazo is so rich in its harmonic language and so varied in its textures and timbres, it makes just about every other a cappella group sound stilted. And the group's magic goes well beyond singing; clicks, purrs, buzzes, and percussive sounds connect the music to an ancient past somehow kept alive through the generations.
Wenyukela, a Zulu term meaning "raise your spirit higher," is an appropriate title for an album full of songs that urge world harmony and perseverance in the face of adversity. Although many of the tunes are not sung in English, the sound is so beautiful, so resonant and universal, that the message comes through.
The struggle of black South Africans over their entire modern history is a powerful undercurrent throughout, but this album contains an added dimension of endurance. In the summer of 2002, the violence that has permeated his country directly affected Shabalala when a masked gunman killed his wife in a church parking lot. "Tribute," the album's final tune, may seem out of place, but this brief hip-hop cut, sung by Shabalala's grandsons, is dedicated to the memory of their grandmother.
--- Ron Netsky
Count Basie and His Orchestra
America's #1 Band: The Columbia Years
When a musician leads great bands for half a century, recording hundreds of albums for dozens of labels, it's not easy to come up with a comprehensive box set. But throughout Count Basie's career many of his most significant recordings were made for Columbia Records. Assembled by veteran producer Orrin Keepnews, the four discs in this collection are packed with 90 excellent performances by Basie and bandmates that constitute a Who's Who of jazz. A shortlist of the greats: Lester Young, Jo Jones, Freddie Green, Clark Terry, Wardell Gray, Don Byas... You get the idea.
They're all here in big-band and small-group settings, with the latter being less familiar and particularly fascinating. The 1936 small group that leads off the set allows plenty of room for solos by Basie, Young, Carl "Tatti" Smith on trumpet, and vocalist Jimmy Rushing. This disc also includes the first (1939) recording of "Lester Leaps In." An octet rendition of "One O'Clock Jump" and Freddy Green's signature guitar strum enliven the second disc. By disc three the big band is in full swing with Harry Edison in the trumpet section, Lucky Thompson among the saxes, and Shadow Wilson on drums, playing great arrangements of tunes like "Ain't It the Truth." The last disc, composed of live radio broadcasts, is highlighted by three songs (two by the Gershwin brothers) with guest vocalist Billie Holiday.
--- Ron Netsky
Slick and tight pop meets punk enthusiasm in the garage on the Boss Martians' new platter, The Set-Up. Often associated with the bloated garage idiom, this Seattle band is more of a real good, bar-chord-friendly power-pop band than the fuzz-mongers they rub elbows with. When I spun "Oh Angela" and "Run And Hide," I could've sworn it was Elvis Costello. I suppose it's the B-3 that shows up throughout the disc that makes folks draw that rootsy conclusion. If you like slick, fast, poppy, and catchy, then dig The Boss Martians.
--- Frank De Blase