JURASSIC 5, POWER IN NUMBERS (INTERSCOPE) Hip-hop innovators Jurassic 5 have delivered Power in Numbers, a sophomore album steeped in the creativity and soul of Quality Control, the act's critically acclaimed 2000 debut. The six guys involved _ yes, there are six, not five _ know a thing or two about smart lyrics, thumping bass. And cleverness.
Fans will note Power in Numbers is more aggressive, darker than the feel-good vibe of the first disc. The group has never shied from social commentary. Freedom deals with poverty and Third World horrors. The deceptively pop-like Thin Line with guest vocalist Nelly Furtado is a glimpse at tough urban life. (Later, Big Daddy Kane adds his lyrical mayhem to the decidedly more upbeat A Day at the Races.)
Jurassic's four rappers are some of the biz's finest, and turntablists/noise hooligans Cut Chemist and DJ Nu-Mark make matters more interesting with outstanding samples and beats. The duo shines on the instrumental Acetate Prophets, a whirlwind of sonic fun. B+
_ GINA VIVINETTO, Times pop music critic
JETS TO BRAZIL, PERFECTING LONELINESS (JADE TREE) Lonely becomes a tangible experience on the fourth album from indie rockers Jets to Brazil. More upbeat than the title suggests, the band's poetry is buoyed by sturdy, driving guitars and highly textured keyboards, even the occasional cello. While singer and lyricist Blake Schwarzenbach often writes purple lyrics, many songs are refreshingly direct.
Disgrace submits to its messy guitar licks, pounding ahead with ferocity and lyrics such as "If my concentration sounds like wreckage/it's 'cause I got a new feeling every 30 seconds."
But this is intelligent, emotional music. You're the One That I Want does not conceal its sugary undercurrent. Slick, buzzing guitars prod gently as Schwarzenbach sings, "You've grown more beautiful/since you took off/what can I do?/I'm in love with you," and strings blossom as he confesses his love. The song is catchy enough for radio, but corporate programming probably will prevent any airplay.
Don't let the "indie rock" tag cause you to steer clear of Jets to Brazil. Sure, a bunch of derivative no-talents get lumped under that label, but Schwarzenbach and company's refreshing blend of melody, punchy rock 'n' roll abandon and emotion make Perfecting Loneliness an inviting listen, no matter what the title suggests. A-
_ BRIAN ORLOFF, Times correspondent
FLOETRY, FLOETIC (DREAMWORKS RECORDS) Floetry, a female British R&B duo, has textured an album with slinky, satiny beats, layering the lo-fi hip-hop with poetic images that result in a visceral musical experience. Sensual and urbane, the understated music allows the dreamy harmonies of singers Marsha Ambrosius and Natalie Stewart to dominate the album's mood.
The album focuses on relationships; Floetic ebbs and flows with panache, reminiscent of equally stimulating work by neo-soul neophyte Jill Scott. Getting Late is a soulful journey, and Fun extols the merits of courtship. Floetic feels like a low-key affair, thanks to barebones arrangements, but its ruminative pace assures meaningful listens. A-
AL DI MEOLA, FLESH ON FLESH (TELARC) The most appealing piece on Flesh on Flesh, the latest solo disc from former fusion hero Al Di Meola, arrives at the end: It's a reworked version of Senor Mouse, penned by Chick Corea, Di Meola's old boss in Return to Forever. The guitarist first recorded the tune on his 1978 Casino album. Here, the spritely melody sections are alternated with freewheeling funk flurries, driven home by the subsonic six-string runs of electric contrabass master Anthony Jackson. The leader rips on a Fender Stratocaster and also plays drums on the track.
Di Meola and his World Sinfonia compadres, together a dozen years or so, engage in open-ended grooving throughout Flesh on Flesh, and he has hinted at an interest in winning a jamband following. And why not? As jams go, Di Meola's are more substantive than most, never stumbling to sub-musicality and often enhanced by the magical, hyperactive rumble of Afro-Cuban percussion wizard and longtime St. Petersburg resident Gumbi Ortiz.
With his congas and cajone, Ortiz is particularly valuable on the title track, which reflects the Miami environs of the recording session. The guitarist's lightning acoustic-electric runs are matched by the airy flute of Alejandro Santos.
Di Meola sounds newly invigorated on his latest disc, willing to apply his trademark sinewy jazz-rock riffs, flamenco lines and metallic machine-gun thunder to varied settings. Zona Desperata, the opener, is aptly frenetic, and includes a segment with Cuban-born piano great Gonzalo Rubalcaba on Fender Rhodes.
Di Meola returns to the music of tango master Astor Piazzolla on his entrancing, heavily syncopated Fugata, played as if Havana and Buenos Aires meet, as he writes in the liner notes. B.
_ PHILIP BOOTH, Times staff writer
PIERRE-LAURENT AIMARD, AT CARNEGIE HALL (TELDEC) Pierre-Lauren Aimard was for many years affiliated with IRCAM, Pierre Boulez's temple of contemporary music in Paris. There he cultivated his spectacular ability to bring to life the works of his countryman Olivier Messiaen and other major 20th century composers, including Gyorgi Ligetti, two of whose etudes are featured on this recording.
In Cordes a vide, Automne a Varsovie and Der Zauberlehrling, which Ligetti composed in the 1980s, Aimard makes limpid sense of their complex, sometimes belligerent and ever-expanding rhythms. In Messiaen's ethereal but tender Premiere Communion de la Vierge (from Vingt Regards a l'Enfant Jesus), Aimard is again wholly sympathetic, rendering its heady, mercurial figurations and variants on an endlessly repeated chorale with just the right combination of solemnity and precision. It wasn't so long ago that Aimard recorded the entire Vingt Regards, among the greatest performances of the work ever committed to disc.
Were this only true for the other works on his ambitious program. Unfortunately, Aimard's music-making is so emotionally detached in more conventional repertoire that it gives soporific an entirely new meaning.
One could almost forgive his wholly uninvolved, rhythmically strait-jacketed reading of Berg's impassioned sonata, did he not eviscerate it entirely of its dramatic spine. In Beethoven's Appassionata, he nails down every note and proves his considerable technical prowess, but to what end? In a work that should be the very voice of inspiration and calculated risk, Aimard instead delivers a routine, workaday performance.
One wonders if he has ever listened to Brendel, Levy, Richter, Gieseking or Arrau in this work. He should: Those great artists frame the Appassionata as an object lesson in musical vivacity. Aimard's uptight sensibility is entirely alien, too, to Liszt and Debussy. In the former's spiritual invocation of the St. Francis of Paule legend, Aimard's metrical navigation of its massive textures and the piano's lower registers reveal nothing of the work's majesty. He is likewise uncomfortable with Debussy's sound world and sensualism, which demand deft and subtle flexibility of rhythm.
Only in Debussy's scintillating Etude for Eight Fingers, a work that foreshadows Messiaen's compositional vocabulary in more ways than one, does his capricious, fleet-fingered survey do justice to the composer. B-
_ JOHN BELL YOUNG, Times correspondent