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Cornucopication

By David King

Puscifer

V Is for Vagina (Puscifer Entertainment)

Tool frontman Maynard James Keenan has listened to industrial beat- and sleaze-masters Revolting Cocks and Pigface. Good for him. Keenan also has built a side project called Puscifer that reproduces the style of the Cocks and Pigface minus any true grit or lyrical inspiration. Bad for him, and bad for anyone who shells out money for this tepid, uninspired trash.

V Is for Vagina apes industrial bands of old but manages to leave out all the juicy tidbits. Replacing his singing voice with a deep, spoken-word intonation, Keenan talks of “thick ladies” and what they do with their “saddlebags.” At times it seems Keenan is trying to channel Skinny Puppy’s Nivek Ogre or Ministry’s Al Jourgensen, but Keenan’s lyrics lack the finesse, cleverness and snarl of Ogre, and the grizzled-junkie lashing of Jourgensen. The whole affair just feels goofy. How goofy? Think Vanilla Ice’s Hard to Swallow, his late ’90s attempt at a comeback via nü-metal. (It is hard to believe there was ever any nü-metal more embarrassing than Limp Bizkit, but the ice man brought it. “Too cold! Too cold!” But I digress.)

If Keenan needed an outlet for his down-and-dirty side, he should have tried actually experimenting with the emotional and artistic range of his main band. Keenan can do sexy, just not over bad drum programming and goofy chanting. V feels like listening to your live-at-home 20-something-year-old friend talk about fingering girls in the clean, white confines of his dad’s basement; it’s awkward and pathetic. And as you can imagine, it’s ripe with all that familiar misogyny your live-at-home friend spouts, too.

The only highlight of this very low-aiming affair is “Rev. 22:20,” a remix of a track already made available on some god-awful horror-movie soundtrack (Underworld: Evolution). Maynard manages to slip back into his slinky singing voice here, and it, like Tool’s classic “Sober,” could help awkward teens seduce awkward teens everywhere, were it not placed at the end of the record—far too deep into an album dominated by uninspired drivel for any sane person to wallow through. Besides, how many teenagers give a shit about what Keenan has to say these days anyway?

Nina Nastasia & Jim White

You Follow Me (Fatcat)

This set of 10 songs in a duo setting has all of the exuberant sense of discovery associated with jazz pairings, and none of the rote mannerisms to often found in folk-volume guitar-based music. Nina Nastasia’s voice and guitar already have a liquidity that allow her melodic sensibility to swoop around and through the strumming and picking. Her guitar offers up, by turns, rhythmically muscular chords and quietly shimmering note-by-note articulations. Drummer Jim White (of Dirty Three) is less an additive to these songs than an essential component; he moves easily between foundation work and giddy rooftop filigree. On “Odd Said the Doe,” his swirling rolls add an emotional bearing, the song spilling out of itself, and throughout White inhabits the core of the song like a second singer. Beholden to nothing other than their own artistic inclinations, these songs straddle genres, discarding labels to be defined only by the 31 minutes they traverse.

—David Greenberger

Lionel Hampton

The Complete Lionel Hampton Victor Sessions 1937-1941(Mosaic)

Vibraphonist Lionel Hampton became a sudden star in 1936 when Benny Goodman featured him in a quartet. Soon after that, Victor Records invited Hampton to record a small-group session under his own name, so Hampton brought a bunch of Goodman band members into the studio and laid down four memorable tracks. A phenomenon was born.

It was hot, joyous and relatively short-lived. Twenty-three sessions over the next four years yielded about four tunes apiece. In terms of jazz interest, some are more successful than others, but even the most negligible of them are still entertaining. And the peaks are impressive indeed.

Much of the material was collected late in the LP days, but only sporadic CD issues have seen the light of day. Mosaic Records’ new five-CD set collects the totality of those Hampton sessions, and with that company’s trademark thoroughness presents superior transfers of the original material along with all known alternate takes.

Personnel also were drawn from the bands of Duke Ellington, Stuff Smith, Count Basie and others, and the sessions benefitted from having players already accustomed to working together. Sessions in April 1937, for example, featured Ellington sideman Johnny Hodges, whose “On the Sunny Side of the Street” became a hit and has endured as a classic.

In July 1938, Hampton put together a session that drew from no one single band: A young, dynamic Benny Carter played reeds and provided arrangements, Harry James was on trumpet, and Billy Kyle, John Kirby and Jo Jones populated the rhythm section to produce jumping tunes like “I’m in the Mood for Swing” and a revamping of the chestnut “Muskrat Ramble.”

Even more spectacular recordings emerged in 1939, when such luminaries as tenor-sax wizard Chu Berry played on several sessions. The trumpet seat changed from date to date, but always with high-quality talent like Ziggy Elman, Rex Stewart and, late in the year, Dizzy Gillespie.

Pianists included Nat “King” Cole (in some of his earliest recordings), Sir Charles Thompson, Clyde Hart and, in the earliest sessions, Goodman stalwart Jess Stacy, whose understated playing is always a fascinating journey through Art Tatum-like harmonic reinvention.

Hampton took the vocal refrains early on in the series, in a light, pleasing but forgettable voice—“Baby, Won’t You Please Come Home” is an absolute nadir—but soon yielded to more talented singers like Helen Forrest and Cole.

Detailed, informative program notes by Loren Schoenberg offer a historical perspective of the sessions, and then give a track-by-track analysis that nicely enhances enjoyment of the music. And enjoy it you will. This is an indispensable gem from the swing era, lovingly remastered to the kind of quality Mosaic’s reissues consistently deliver.

—B.A. Nilsson


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