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Sit & Spin

Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros

Streetcore opens with a riff so reminiscent of Joe Strummer's signature, um, strumming, and wry, seasoned voice that any Clash or rock fan with a sense of music history will get an instant rush of adrenaline and flash back to the days of endless musical possibilities. The opener, "Coma Girl," extends the lyrical bombast that had been so pervasive throughout Strummer's 30-year history in rock. Strummer never let up on his activism and inspired countless punk bands. Sadly, the closing track, "Silver & Gold," a cover of a Bobby Charles tune, foreshadows his abrupt death in December 2002 of a heart attack. Sandwiched between the upbeat, rocking opener and the somber end of the record, Strummer mellows with an acoustic guitar on the Johnny Cash-like tune, "Long Shadow," and the sparse but warm cover of Bob Marley's "Redemption Song." "Get Down Moses" has the sensual reggae underpinning that Strummer, born John Graham Mellor, adored and wrote all through his years with The Clash and as a solo artist, film score creator, and finally with the Mescaleros. The odd tune out on this recording is "Midnight Jam," one of several instrumental tracks that was waiting for Strummer's vocals at the time of his death. The band salvaged the song by over-dubbing Strummer's voice from various sources (including his BBC radio program) for an eerie, haunting number. On the closer, the Charles classic, Strummer croons, "I'm gonna go out dancing every night/I'm gonna see all your city lights/Got to hurry up before I get too old." Strummer never got old in his music and never stooped to pushing meaningless "hits" tours like so many rockers who continue well beyond their musical significance. Hey Joe, wish you didn't have to go so soon, thanks for all the good times, musical revelations and wake-up calls.

Track to burn: "Ramshackle Day Parade."
Grade: A--Samir Shukla

Sam Rivers
Blue Note Connoisseur Series

Sam Rivers' debut as a leader was a conservative affair -- at least compared to his avant-garde dates that followed. That's not to say this 1964 Blue Note session is a comfortable slice of run-of-the-mill hard bop. Rivers' sound has always had an edge to it (40 years later it still does, as his recent big band projects can attest), and this quartet was far too talented to ever have been considered average. While these compositions and arrangements are still firmly rooted in traditional notions of melody and rhythm (and they definitely swing), Rivers' tenor solos often veer toward the more challenging direction his overall sound would take a year later with his next record, Contours. On Fuchsia, with pianist Jakai Byard and two-thirds of Miles Davis' rhythm section -- bassist Ron Carter and drummer Tony Williams -- building structural ladders for him, Rivers soars with his trademark disciplined improvisations on six originals and four alternate takes. None of the tunes entered the jazz lexicon, though the cooker "Luminous Monolith" and the ballad "Beatrice" (dedicated to Rivers' wife) deserved to be there. But the playing is so subtle and the dynamic tension between instruments executed with such seeming ease that it's easy to overlook the genius of this band and the strengths of this welcome reissue.

Track to burn: "Luminous Monolith."
Grade: A---John Schacht

Larry Young
Mother ship
Blue Note Connoisseur Series

This one cooks. It's one of those sessions where, if you listen carefully, the other players can be heard exhorting the soloists on as though they had money on them at the finish line. Organist Larry Young began his career as a Jimmy Smith acolyte, but quickly veered off into modal territory and led a series of strong avant-garde dates. This 1969 session was his last for the Blue Note, and for some unfathomable reason sat in the company's vaults until 1980. Joined by the undeservedly obscure tenor Herbert Morgan (a Young favorite) and drummer Eddie Gladden (a Dexter Gordon regular), Young gets a huge boost from trumpet maestro Lee Morgan (no relation to Herbert), and the quartet storms through five Young originals that reflect his underrated composition skills. The highlight is the 13-minute "Trip Merchant," an epic romp that belies the notion that free jazz doesn't swing. As he had done four years earlier with his groundbreaking debut, Unity, Young pushes his instrument into realms no prior organist was brave -- or skilled -- enough to try. Mothership may lack the element of surprise that his first one had, but that's about all it lacks.

Track to burn: "Trip Merchant."
Grade: A---John Schacht

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