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[whitespace] Critical Theory

A jazz band shows a respect for standards; a pair of blues and rock bands experiment with their genres

Along Came Betty

Traditional jazz for the latter part of the 20th century is a hard nut to categorize, let alone crack. Jazz music has, imbedded within it, enough traditions already, and has couched so many styles, genres and rebellious factions, that one can get lost in the music's own argument with itself. Then Along Came Betty. This local quintet has embraced the jazz standard in a fresh approach. These are all original pieces with the feel of the eternal playground that all jazz musicians strive to sneak into, tunes mostly composed by pianist Biff Smith. These guys can swing. The horns (Brian Stock on trumpet and flugelhorn, Stu Reynolds on tenor and alto sax) play extended harmonized riffs that are informed by the early big bands, yet take solo cues pushing along fully realized structures passed down from Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The rhythm is tight. Bassist Pete Lips and drummer Patrick Tregenza keep it in the pocket, especially on "Good Clean Fun," allowing the band to groove and swing in and out of well-worn familiarity, in the neighborhood of Brubeck-meets-Marcus Miller-funk. In particular, Lips walks a mean bass. This group is in full control of a wide palette of sounds and is not afraid to mix up genres. (Bruce Willey)

Mark G. Sowlakis
Simple Beauty

Mark Sowlakis' first CD emphasizes an often-overlooked clarinet. This mostly mellow but never boring exploration of that noble instrument's many possibilities feels like a stroll on some shady, laid-back boulevard during simpler times. Some tunes bounce around like a granddad let loose from the nursing home, while others, like the painfully cool "Skalp It," reinvent ska by piling four clarinets on top of a winsome electric guitar. The title track, with its saucy percussion, Eastern modalities and languid atmosphere, could be the stirring soundtrack of an understated rain-swept scene in some Italian film. Sowlakis in the liner notes says of this excellent number that it "just wrote itself one day." "Bass Clarinetin," a bluesy swing number, humorously showcases the clarinet's low register. The cool collagelike song "Freedom Jazz Dance/Inner Melody," features spoken words by Warne Marsh and Lennie Tristano and has almost too much fun playing around with Eddie Harris' famous melody. "Each of us has a melody in us somewhere," says Tristano during the song. Sowlakis proves it. (Andrea Perkins)

Liquid Foundation
Off the Deep End

Off the Deep End is a classic example of a group of musicians playing their hearts out, playing with forms and mixing influences with all the refreshing disregard for the in sound they can manage. At their core is a jam sensibility that, instead of sounding like the ever-common Deadhead coterie, leans more in the direction of the Talking Heads--but with tall redwoods instead of tall buildings. In fact, Liquid Foundation even covers David Byrne's "Naive Melody" and takes it to an earnest abstraction that sort of makes sense. On "Glued" the band manages to incorporate a Stevie Wonder-like clavinet with an aquaphonic guitar/bass conflagration--and to good effect. No matter where you listen on this album, there are tight beats from the late '70s and early '80s and searching lyrics that allude to everybody's loss for explanation during the period. In fact, one of the albums problems is that, to this listener, it doesn't make a musical statement as much as ask a harmonic question. Will Liquid Foundation, in their next offering, somehow make their sound irresistible? (BW)

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From the September 6-13, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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