al­bum re­views

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SETI-X Scram­bles of Earth: The Voy­ager In­ter­stel­lar Record, Remixed by Ex­trater­res­tri­als (See­land Records)

In 1977, Voy­ager 1 and Voy­ager 2 were launched into space to ex­plore the outer so­lar sys­tem and in­ter­stel­lar space. Each craft car­ried an “in­ter­stel­lar record” that con­tained greet­ings in more than 50 lan­guages, an­i­mal noises, 90 min­utes of mu­sic, a record­ing of Carl Sa­gan’s wife’s brain-wave ac­tiv­ity, more than 100 pho­to­graphs, and other cu­riosi­ties meant to de­scribe life on Earth to ex­trater­res­tri­als. On this CD, SETI-X — an acro­nym for Search for Ex­trater­res­trial In­tel­li­gence in Ex­ile, a pur­ported splin­ter group of the con­tro­ver­sial, mul­ti­fac­eted SETI project — presents what it al­leges are SETI-X-in­ter­cepted trans­mis­sions sep­a­rated into 24 sep­a­rate sound seg­ments that are ac­tu­ally ex­trater­res­trial remixes of the 1977 Voy­ager In­ter­stel­lar Record. Depend­ing on how badly you “want to be­lieve” that we have made con­tact with in­tel­li­gent life be­yond Earth, you may be­gin to roll your eyes less than one sec­ond into the first track. It be­gins with a high-pitched voice (it sounds like the Lol­lipop Guild seg­ment in The Wizard of Oz) pro­claim­ing, “ Hello chil­dren of planet Earth.” It then segues into a war­bled blend of a sec­tion of one of Bach’s Bran­den­burg con­cer­tos and the voice of for­mer UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Kurt Wald­heim. For the most part, how­ever, the mixes are eerie and clever enough to help you ven­ture a sec­ond guess as to their ce­les­tial prove­nance. To truly ap­pre­ci­ate the mix­ing hand­i­work on this pe­cu­liar al­bum, I rec­om­mend head­phones, pa­tience, and an open mind. Tin­foil hats are op­tional. — Rob DeWalt

JOE LO­VANO & US FIVE Bird Songs (Blue Note)

Here sax­o­phon­ist Joe Lo­vano does more than sim­ply tackle Char­lie “Bird” Parker: he gets in­side and re­works the mu­sic of Parker, whose lines he has been study­ing and play­ing since he was a boy in Cleve­land. Lo­vano’s fa­ther had a big record col­lec­tion of Bird and other bebop stars. “Just try­ing to ex­e­cute the melodies and un­der­stand the rhythm and har­monic se­quences as a young mu­si­cian was over­whelm­ing and ad­dic­tive for me,” Lo­vano says in the liner notes. “I was pos­sessed.” This new al­bum fea­tures Lo­vano’s Us Five quin­tet with drum­mers Otis Brown III and Fran­cisco Mela, pi­anist James Wei­d­man, and bassist Esper­anza Spald­ing. They open with a straight-ahead take on “Pass­port,” and then shift into morph mode, trans­form­ing the wild­ish “Donna Lee” into a bal­lad. On “Moose the Mooche,” the band comes close to cap­tur­ing the bluesy, raw en­ergy and the al­most old-fash­ioned spirit of Parker in the mid-1940s. But like ev­ery­thing on this disc, it’s a fas­ci­nat­ing mix of old and new: some clas­sic themes and rhythms by a bril­liant in­no­va­tor wo­ven into the present by a re­ally hip cast of play­ers — and via Lo­vano’s im­pres­sive savvy as an ar­ranger. Their “Lover Man” is sim­ply a great song — Lo­vano the chief sto­ry­teller set against fire­works per­cus­sion. Lo­vano’s 22nd disc for Blue Note is am­bi­tious, orig­i­nal, and very en­joy­able.

— Paul Wei­de­man

DEER­HOOF

Deer­hoof Vs. Evil

( Polyvinyl) Deer­hoof ’s live shows are scorchers, but the group’s spas­tic, art-col­lage al­bums have been some­thing to ap­pre­ci­ate more than en­joy. But 2009 saw the Dirty Pro­jec­tors — an­other odd­ball band that fix­ates on com­plex time sig­na­tures and rapid-fire changes — en­joy some cross­over suc­cess, so there’s hope for Deer­hoof to ex­pand its au­di­ence af­ter 16 years. Coin­ci­den­tally or not,

Deer­hoof Vs. Evil is po­ten­tially the band’s most ac­ces­si­ble al­bum. It’s a larger-than-life song cy­cle about find­ing com­fort in a dif­fi­cult world, re­call­ing Talk­ing Heads’ Fear of Mu­sic or Flam­ing Lips’

Yoshimi Bat­tles the Pink Ro­bots. Like those al­bums, it comes com­plete with heavy doses of dark­ness (the im­pend­ing nu­clear ex­plo­sions of “The Merry Bar­racks”) and light (the glee­ful up­lift of “Su­per Duper Res­cue Heads!”). Mu­si­cally, Deer­hoof em­ploys its usual tricks, such as jux­ta­pos­ing Satomi Mat­suzaki’s child­like vo­cals with fe­ro­cious elec­tric gui­tars and ex­ploit­ing the quiet-to-loud dy­namic. But the group has ex­panded its pal­ette to in­clude far more in­stru­ments and tex­tures: wit­ness the Span­ish acous­tic gui­tar of the gen­tle bal­lad “ No One Asked to Dance” or the funky or­gan and what sounds like a saw in the bridge of “Se­cret Mo­bi­liza­tion.” Some lis­ten­ers will blanch at hav­ing to dig so deep for the emo­tional core, but those who are ad­ven­tur­ous (and per­haps own a good set of head­phones) will find whole worlds to ex­plore. — Robert B. Ker

AN­DREW RANGELL

5 Vari­a­tions (Bridge) The pi­anist An­drew Rangell may be about the clos­est the mod­ern con­cert world gets to Glenn Gould. He doesn’t seem to see much point in play­ing pieces the same way ev­ery­one else does. His in­ter­pre­ta­tions can be head­strong, but they are never less than in­ter­est­ing, with ev­ery note sound­ing as if it re­sults from deeply con­sid­ered anal­y­sis. Rangell’s ca­reer has been ham­pered by fo­cal dys­to­nia, the neu­ro­log­i­cal con­di­tion that more fa­mously side­lined pi­anist Leon Fleisher, but he has nonethe­less man­aged to re­main spo­rad­i­cally ac­tive over the past two decades. This recorded recital of­fers five sets of vari­a­tions by as many com­posers, in­clud­ing a search­ing ren­di­tion of Haydn’s pen­sive F-Mi­nor Vari­a­tions and a charmed one of Schu­bert’s Im­promptu in B-flat Ma­jor (which con­sists of vari­a­tions on a theme from his Rosamunde mu­sic). Less fa­mil­iar are the other three sets on this CD. Bizet’s

Vari­a­tions chro­ma­tiques is a Lisz­tian fan­tasy on the chro­matic scale that ranges from the mun­dane to the bizarre (“High Art meets Dis­ney­land” is Rangell’s de­scrip­tion). Carl Nielsen’s rarely played Cha­conne ( op. 32) is an in­ter­est­ing Bach trib­ute, as ra­tio­nal and “re­spon­si­ble” — and strik­ing — as one ex­pects of its com­poser. How to ex­plain the sim­i­lar ne­glect of Brahms’ gen­tle Vari­a­tions on an Orig­i­nal Theme ( op. 21, no. 1)? Rangell re­veals its hov­er­ing, mys­te­ri­ous lyri­cism, and he makes it seem a mas­ter­piece. — James M. Keller

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