WYCLEF JEAN, THE ECLEFTIC (Columbia) Wyclef Jean is angry.
You can see it on the album cover of his latest CD, The Ecleftic. He is staring out of the jewel case like a man intent on kicking the music world in the groin.
And you can hear it in the first track, Where Fugees At?: All I hear is Fugee this Fugee that/where Fugees at?/I need Fugees to spin up on this track/Lauryn if you're listening Pras if you're listening/give me a call, he spits over Teflon-smooth bass, drums and organ.
But Wyclef Jean also is inspired. And that you can tell from the rest of his CD.
From Pharoahe Monch Dub Plate, which features Kenny Rogers singing rewritten parts of The Gambler, to Something About Mary, which apparently is about some woman named Mary Jane he's in love with, The Ecleftic is definitely eclectic _ and musically delicious.
Jean, who has been somewhat eclipsed by the commercial success of fellow Fugee Lauryn Hill, showed in his first solo effort, The Carnival, that his rhyming skills are more than just background chatter for Hill and Pras. His new effort takes that impressive beginning and sprints away with it. The production is filled with booty-shaking syncopation and finger-snapping sounds. The lyrics are intelligent and insightful. How many rap artists could record a song called Diallo? It's a don't-trust-the-police tirade, but he does it thoughtfully, and without calling for violence or painting himself as some Uzi-toting, 'hood hero cop killer.
But then he turns around and rhymes about the legitimacy of women working in strip clubs. They're just folks trying to make a living, he says in Perfect Gentleman. You calling her a hooker?/He without sin cast the first stone, he sings. From political statements to strip clubs . . . yeah, that's eclectic. And for the coup de grace, he strums together a remix of Pink Floyd's Wish You Were Here, on which he displays his monstrous guitar skills.
There's just not much to dislike about this album. It's got 19 tracks that are as perfectly balanced as a psychiatrist on Prozac. There's a fine line between genius and insanity. But The Ecleftic's brilliance outshines its idiosyncrasies.
_ GERRY DOYLE, Times staff writer
DE LA SOUL, ART OFFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (Tommy Boy) De La Soul invented the psychedelic hip-hop concept album with 1989's seminal 3 Feet High and Rising, and Pos, Dave and Mase (and their sprawling roster of collaborators) have continued to produce some of the genre's most intelligent, witty and innovative material ever since.
But the rap world has been catching up to De La Soul. A lot of Art Official Intelligence (Mosaic Thump) sounds like everybody else.
Maybe it's because almost everybody else is here: Redman, Busta Rhymes, Chaka Khan, Tash, J-Ro, a couple of Beasties and various other guests contribute vocals and vision to this project, and some of the De La Soul world view gets lost in the process. Or maybe the group just never quite got over the absence of production wizard Prince Paul. This disc has almost as many guest producers as guest vocalists.
Still, things thump along nicely enough, and just when the noise starts to sound generic, the boys plug in one of their patented sound effects or changes of pace, just to make sure you're still paying attention. Oooh (with Redman vocals) and All Good? (with Khan) have become instant party classics. U Can Do (Life) slips into a hypnotic loop that could pleasantly last all day.
Lyrically, this is De La Soul's least interesting effort. The clever turns of phrase get lost in a lot of blather straight out of Gangsta 101. Art Official Intelligence (Mosaic Thump) supposedly is the first installment of a planned trilogy, but it's hard to discern what the unifying concept of such a project could be. Once De La Soul put its creative vision at the mercy of Busta Rhymes and whoever else wandered into the studio, it ran the risk of becoming part of the milieu it used to observe with ironic detachment. GRADE: B+
_ ROBERT FRIEDMAN, Times staff writer
PAUL WERTICO TRIO, DON'T BE SCARED ANYMORE (Premonition) Paul Wertico, longtime drummer for the Pat Metheny Group, mostly eschews jazz, rock and traditional fusion on the first studio recording from his own eclectic, experimental-leaning outfit with wizardly guitarist John Moulder and talented multi-instrumentalist Eric Hochberg.
This Chicago-based band, first heard on 1997's Live in Warsaw!, comes off as a brainy power trio at the disc's start, with the manic Clybourn Strut, followed by the snaking 6/4 rhythms and spooky incantations of The Underground and Wertico's expressive rolls and splashes on the 5/4 African Sunset.
Much of the remainder is impressionistic. Much of the remainder is impressionistic. Hochberg's bowed bass builds to an impressive climax over the repetitive riff of The Visit. Moulder's effects-drenched guitar twists through a series of nervy lines on Liftoff. The noisy six-string and percussion textures of Long Journey's End might be the sound of a chugging train (reflecting the booklet art). And Moulder rips out flamenco-ish lines over the Sturm und Drang of the rhythm section on Taliaville.
Justa Little Tuna, a waltz said to be inspired by Ornette Coleman, is a pretty piece built on chiming guitars and Hochberg's lovely muted trumpet declarations. And the three blow it out on Testament, an extended finale that draws from Monk-ish bebop, funk, old-style art rock and free jazz. It's an ambitious capper to a disc with plenty of appeal for fans of edgy instrumental music, post-fusion division. Those partial to Metheny's smoother efforts, though, may find it far too adventurous. Their loss. GRADE: B
_ PHILIP BOOTH, Times correspondent
Glass: Violin Concerto; Adele Anthony, violin; Ulster Orchestra/Takuo Yuasa, conductor (Naxos) _ It has long been accepted that Philip Glass' greatest strength is as a film and stage composer. In fact, his finest work may turn out to be what first brought him to a wider public, his score to Koyaanisqatsi, the 1983 documentary that made apocalypse seem spellbindingly beautiful. His trilogy of minimalist "portrait operas" _ Einstein on the Beach, Satyagraha, Akhnaten _ have worn less well.
Glass' repetitive, arpeggio-laden music complements film perfectly. It is most useful as accompaniment or ornamentation. Heard in the concert hall, with no visual stimulation, a Glass score can send audiences into fidgeting and torpor. His music does, however, make good listening on long drives.
Since the late 1980s, Glass has been composing more for traditional orchestra. One of his first forays into the field was the violin concerto, which is the centerpiece of a new Naxos release, part of its American Classics series. Also on the agenda are a pair of theater works, Company and the prelude and dance from Akhnaten.
From a chauvinistic standpoint, it continues to be disappointing that Naxos' exemplary survey of American art music is mostly played by non-American orchestras, in this case by the Ulster Orchestra under its Japanese principal guest conductor, Takuo Yuasa. U.S. orchestras, with their unionized players and high-cost production environments, have priced themselves out of the recording market. The Belfast orchestra, while far from the last word in polish and precision, acquits itself adequately on the budget-priced disc.
Violin soloist Adele Anthony is the highlight here in a nicely restrained performance. Set against the vaguely menacing orchestral backdrop, her sweet tone and agile passagework create an ethereal sensation that sticks in the mind. Architecturally, the concerto is unconventional in that the orchestra and soloist are relatively independent of each other, as if playing from parallel universes. It's a haunting piece, if a little short on invention in the finale, which trails off instead of reaching any resolution.
Company was originally written as a quartet to accompany a Samuel Beckett monologue on death. Rescored for string orchestra, it is a dark, sleekly beautiful work lasting less than 10 minutes. The excerpts from Akhnaten, Glass' opera on a sun-worshiping pharaoh, include passages of Zenlike trance music that are quintessential minimalism. Grade: B
_ JOHN FLEMING, Times performing arts critic