CHA-CHA CHARMSÂ… New York’s wildly successful holiday-weekend Alegria party has been since 2001 the province of Abel Aguilera, one of gay clubland’s most popular and best DJs. Known simply as Abel, this noted dance music producer, who records as Rosabel with Chicago-based DJ Ralphi Rosario, is also a great compilation mix DJ, a fact borne out by his two-disc Alegria set. We have our qualms with the compilation, beginning with the reason for having two discs in the first place, when only one — the first one — sizzles all the way through. And then there’s Abel’s use of the overplayed shouting diva shtick that Pepper Mashay wore out years ago. Jeanie Tracy tatters this cheap trick even further. "Throw your hands up in the air," she demands on the blah-blah "Cha-Cha Heels." If you have to tell people to show excitement, isn’t the point lost?
But in the end, our qualms are pointless: even "Cha-Cha Heels" achieves its purpose to make you move. Those promiscuous, snake-rattle tribal beats will never get old, carrying along anyone who will give in to their polyrhythmic charms. Abel uses creative track-and-field sound effects and takes us farther afield than do many similarly esteemed gay American DJs, incorporating sounds from the Middle East, Greece and Latin America, in addition to the African tribal beats that are the sine quo non of his set. Certainly hardcore clubbers will be enamored by the compilation — Disc 2 is all but given over to them. But those occasional dance dabblers who crave vocal-oriented pop are accommodated repeatedlyÂ…
BJORK MCFERRIN?… By Labor Day, we’ll hear the latest from BjÃ¶rk — and it promises to be little like any other release from the beyond-eccentric singer. Rolling Stone reports that BjÃ¶rk’s Medulla will be an all-vocal affair. Former Roots beatbox Rahzel and former Faith No More lead singer Mike Patton are two guests who will contribute their voices to flesh out song elements normally handled by musical instruments. “Instruments are so over,” BjÃ¶rk told Rolling Stone, in characteristically sweeping fashion. “I think this was probably the most intuitive album I’ve done. I had to use ingredients that I trusted, like my voice, my muscles, my bones." It’s BjÃ¶rk, so she gets the benefit of our doubt. But at face value, doesn’t it sound like the second coming of Bobby McFerrin?…
MUM’S ISOLATED ICELANDÂ… The simple fact of BjÃ¶rk’s maniacal creativity and eminent quirkiness helped raise consciousness of her green, all-sun-or-none homeland in the Atlantic. It’s obviously too much to credit her alone for putting Iceland on the tourist map. Not so with music. BjÃ¶rk, and The Sugarcubes, the cult-favorite experimental-pop band she started with, cleared a path for equally inventive Icelandic electronic-based groups such as Sigur RÃ³s and Gus Gus to find fame internationally. There’s something in the water, apparently. Another Icelandic experimental band, mÃºm, has been around since the turn of the millennium, but attention is taking its time to build, just as every track is slow to build on the group’s new sophomore album, Summer Make Good.
MÃºm’s three main members and several guest musicians holed themselves up for nearly two months to record Summer in an abandoned lighthouse-keeper’s house, bringing along string instruments, percussion and any number of exotic instruments to add organic textures to the group’s otherwise electronic music bed. That isolated locale is reflected in the thoroughly theatrical music, where high tide inspires lush instrumentation and crashing melodies, as well as creepy childlike vocals from lead singer KristÃn Anna ValtÃ½sdÃ³ttir. And low tide? Clearly that’s when the majority of the album was written, inspiring creaky, spooky indiscernible noises — and the whirring wind. Because so much of the album is built around silence and near-silence, it’s hard to imagine how it will work in a loud nightclub like the Black Cat, where mÃºm will perform next Saturday, July 24. But it’s intriguing enough to make it worth checking out, especially to see the crowd’s responseÂ…
JULIE ANDREWS RETURNS TO SINGING?… "Julie Andrews returns to singing," a recent Billboard headline read, and it didn’t need punctuation to elicit screams of joy. Turns out though, it overstated the case. The former — what a painful word — Hollywood and Broadway musical maven lost control of her crystal-clear, perfect-pitch pipes as a result of a botched 1997 operation to remove benign nodes from her vocal cords. Damn doctors! Since then, Andrews has regained some of her singing ability. But her touted "return to singing" involves minimal singing and accompaniment from two of her costars in The Princess Diaries 2: Royal Engagement. As Andrews told NBC’s Today: "I’m sort of sing speaking; I only sing the merest bit of a song. It’s a little bit like Rex Harrison did in My Fair Lady. I talk the song through." That’s better than nothing from Maria von Trapp. The song, "Your Crowning Glory," will be on the soundtrack, due Aug. 10, or a day before the film’s releaseÂ…
Angie Stone: Stone Love
POP PROGNOSIS: GOODÂ… Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise, but right now the prognosis for pop music is good. That is, if female R&B singer/songwriters are your standards of measurement — and particularly in Clubland and Gayville, they are. Over the past few years quality neo-soul and thoughtful R&B has been steadily gaining steam in the mainstream. Just this week, Angie Stone returned to form with her third album, Stone Love, an appealing album demonstrating her penchant for upbeat mid-tempo balladry. The album balances modern hip-hop breezy beats with old-school soul humidity. Stone doesn’t offer, yet again, true dance-pop here. But a remix of her jamming first single, "I Wanna Thank Ya" with Snoop Dogg, is forthcoming. Let’s hope it’s as sharp as Hex Hector and Mac Quayle‘s remix of Stone’s "Wish I Didn’t Miss You"Â…
Jill Scot: Vol 1
BEAUTIFUL WORDS & SOUNDSÂ… It Stone’s fellow Philly neo-soul singer/songwriter Jill Scott that is the season’s most hotly anticipated comeback. Scott’s 2000 double-platinum debut, Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 featured several of the best songs of any genre composed in at least a decade. She made deft yet sparing use of jazz, blues and world-pop to color her brand of upbeat, midtempo neo-soul, making it exhilarating. But it was her supreme confidence with words and wordplay that made her deeply poetic tracks soar as classics, including "A Long Walk" and especially "He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)," our nominee for best pop love song ever written. Expect much the same when Scott releases her sophomore studio set, Beautifully Human, Words and Sounds, Vol. 2, at the end of August. She described the album to the Associated Press as “warm, like a hug, like a first kiss, like a kitten purring next to you.” Before its release, Scott will perform in D.C., July 23 and 24, at the 9:30 Club. The lively performer has a large fan base here, where she once cut a live album. D.C.’s quintessential music sound, go-go, gave her hit "It’s Love" its infectious party beatÂ…
Diary of Alicia Keys
MEMOIRS OF A 23-YEAR-OLDÂ… Another neo-soul singer/songwriter released her sophomore album late last year and has plans to branch out beyond writing music this year and next. Alicia Keys is the most commercially successful of the lot, the most boisterous and rebellious and the youngest. We didn’t find her music terribly appealing on her first go-round, the Grammy-winning Songs in A Minor, but The Diary of Alicia Keys is far and away better than her debut, showing greater control over her nasal-inflected voice and a more mature, artful mixing of music from yesterday and today. Now that the she’s firmed up her music, Keys is ready to branch out, like any precocious star at the top of her game. Keys will release in November a book, called Songbook, featuring nothing more than her poems and lyrics, and then, next fall, a memoir. A memoir at only 23 years of age? Strange as it sounds, yes. It shouldn’t be too thick, as she recounts growing up in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen and her early musical trainingÂ…
Mariah Carey: Remixes
MARIAH CAREY CARRIES ONÂ… And last and definitely least, Mariah Carey also plans to write a book. Carey, however, will steer clear of memoir land — at least for now, as the dust settles on her very-public emotional breakdown a few years back. Instead, according to the Hollywood Reporter, Carey will pen an illustrated children’s book about a biracial orphan girl with the aim of turning it into an animated series. Her agent, as quoted in the paper, sounded a note or two defensive: "”The children’s [project] is a very natural step. It’s something she’s worked on without the help of ghostwriters. She has a whole idea based on her biracial heritage; she thinks there is a huge audience.”Â
Meanwhile, Carey hasn’t given up on recording, and her next album will be out later this year. And then — yes, there’s more — Carey will take to the stage next year in London, in a play named, no joke, "The Prince and the Showgirl"Â…
DANCEFLOOR JAZZ COMES TO TOWNÂ…A funked-up remix of Jill Scott’s "A Long Walk" kicks off in grand fashion Jazzanova‘s first official mixed CD. After several years of creating music that straddles the line between jazz and dance-pop, this six-piece German DJ collective has just-released a carefully plotted eighty-minute journey distinctive from most dance compilations, yet completely at home in the club. To celebrate, they’ll spin live this Saturday, July 10, at Club Five. The group veers a little too closely to smooth jazz sonics, or tripped-out acid jazz on their album Â…mixing. But it only works to highlight the sizzlers contained withinÂ…