Record Reviews

Cibo Matto Viva! La Woman (Warner Bros.) (3.5 stars)Delightfully weird! Two Japanese female expatriates living in NYC (one, Miho Hatori sings, the other, Yuka Honda, plays keyboards and samples) make a concept record about their often ambivalent relationship to food. All ten songs deal explicitly with edibles, with titles like "Apple", "Birthday Cake", and "Artichoke" and a cover of Sammy Davis Jr.'s, "The Candy Man." As with many women I know, these two treat food as an animate object, capable of expressing love, of seducing, or of creating feelings of disgust. Hatori's singing at times suggests Tricky's druggy trip-hop, Bjork's hyperactive buoyancy, and the B-52's playful postmod feminism but I couldn't get a handle on the music until I noticed that Michael Froom and Tchad Blake (the two members of the Latin Playboys who weren't with Los Lobos) assisted in the production, mixing and recording. As with the Latin Playboys, Cibo Matto's music is a strange mix of treated, often distorted sounds, instruments that sound like non-European folk musics played by avant garde post modernists and trip-a-daisy rhythms. The disorienting effect this music creates is perfect for the stream-of-consciousness lyrics such as "My weight is 300 pounds -- My favorite is beef jerky -- I'm a vagabond, I'm a vagabond -- My mom says, You are kinky!'" This is a world in which (white pepper) ice cream burns their lips, a birthday cake expresses repressed anger and a conflicted past, the street-corner chicken becomes a baby to care for and french toast ("Le Pain Perdu" or lost bread) represents feelings of laziness and conflicted lust. Creating catchy dance hooks out of choruses that go "Shut up and eat -- Too bad no bon appetit -- Shut up and eat -- You know my love is sweet" or "I know my chicken -- You got to know your chicken" while making music that sounds like half a barely overheard Soho street scene and half a barely overheard Carnival, Cibo Matto has made a perfectly delicious record about a topic few feminist musicians have tackled.Miles Davis Highlights from the Plugged Nickel (Columbia) (2 stars) This one disc abbreviation of a seven disc set covering two December 1965 nights at this Chicago nightclub has me wondering what all the claims of "masterpiece" (from reputable papers such as the New York Times no less) are about. Sure, it's an opportunity to hear Davis' then new sax player, Wayne Shorter, in his only live recording with this particular quintet. And perhaps the seven disc set allows one to hear how the same song was played in radically different manners just nights (or sets) apart -- allowing one to gain a greater appreciation for the art of jazz improvisation. But I assume that Columbia chose these "Highlights" for a reason -- because they represented the best performances. With six numbers averaging over 12 minutes in length, it's obvious that the improvisations are this recording's reason for being but better, contemporaneous Davis recordings are available. The two CD My Funny Valentine + Four & More recorded for a 1964 Congress and Racial Equality concert and featuring nearly the same band (George Coleman played sax) is more romantic on the ballad album (Valentine) and more energetic, vital on the uptempo disc (Four). The studio Miles Smiles features the exact same band a few months later and has the aggressive energy and clever improvision that Plugged Nickel lacks. On Plugged Nickel Miles and Shorter seem to be testing the material, playing short bits that lead nowhere before trying something else. Given the strides that Coltrane, Coleman, Rollins and Dolphy were making with lengthy thematic improvisation on horns, this improvisational style is especially disappointing -- the music never goes anywhere. While Davis would try something similar with his early fusion albums, those albums' layering of keyboards would create an apparently tranquil surface that actually masked a sustained tension which Davis' trumpet interjections could then break. Here the solos are simply draggy, something the comping of one of jazz's best rhythm sections simply can't fix. From lesser mortal we might even call this dull, nightclub noodling.

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