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Beat Street
By Todd S. Inoue

What It Is
True 'Dat: What It Is holds a CD-release party at the Agenda on June 28.

She's No Angel:
'Bitch' singer Brooks crashes local show

EARLY ARRIVALS for the Odd Numbers/Crack show at the Usual in San Jose last Saturday got a surprise opener. It was that "Bitch"--Meredith Brooks under the pseudonym Angel. Apparently, Brooks was performing at a BGP function during the week so she couldn't have her name advertised on the marquee. Brooks sounded, well, like the woman she's most often compared to, Alanis Morissette. The few people in the club, save the "tres L.A." industry folks, didn't have a clue until the "Bitch" single hit. Oh! It's that singer. The other bands were overheard crabbing that they were kicked out of the backstage area and treated like peons by Brooks' handlers.

Despite the distraction, Crack put on an inspired show that culminated in another surprise. Mark Moreland, San Jose resident and Wall of Voodoo member, came out to perform lead-guitar duties on Crack's eclectic cover of "Mexican Radio." The moment was thoroughly enjoyable for all involved.

Quest on Fire

For hip-hop fans, it's easy to drop a dime at Groovesmith Records in Palo Alto. One recent purchase was Live Human, an experimental hip-hop project featuring Bay Area sound sculptor DJ Quest. I remember seeing Live Human at the Cactus last year. The stage was remarkably spare, empty except for contrabassist Andrew Kushin and trap drummer Albert Mathias. To their right, Quest used two decks, a mixer and a delay switch to manipulate wax. From an aural DNA test, one could detect traces of classical, jazz, dub and hip-hop, yet every improvised composition bearing the Live Human tag sprouted a heart, six arms and three grotesque brains.

I rang up Quest recently and demanded an explanation. "It's what we feel," says Quest. "There's no name or category to it. It's to a point where it's not even hip-hop anymore. I don't like to call it hip-hop; everybody gets confused. It's something that's still up in the air." Up in the air, in the rafters, burned into eyes like an afterimage. Drop the needle on Live Human's self-titled debut, recorded with "no repeats and no rehearsals," and it's bug-out time. While the unplugged instruments maintain civility, the plugged instrument wails on breaks and samples of Wolfman Jack, screaming chimps and mee-mees. Mathias keeps Buddy Rich­like time, and Kushin's bass grunts like Billy Bob Thornton. An ever-changing array of passionate scratches, rips and tears is fired from Quest's hands. Tracks like "Improvisessions," "Alien Church Gospel" and "Violinterlude" suggest a melding of spirits.

Outside of Live Human, Quest cuts up beats with Bay Area mix-tape masters Eddie Def and Cue as the Space Travellers. The crew has been around since 1991, when it put out its first break-beat record as the Bullet Proof Scratch Hamsters, which opened the door for such kooky-named crews as the Invizibl Scratch Piklz. "We decided to change the name because all these groups wanted to have funny names," Quest explains. "Everybody was trying to imitate the names. I even heard of the Scratch Rabbits."

The semiorganic Live Human feeds Quest's own quest for musical exploration, and the resulting album is one of the freshest hip-hop records to come out this year. "It's just to try to break boundaries between the different styles of music--to get someone who listens to classical to listen to hip-hop," says Quest. "I'm trying to blend in everyone. I feel like I can reach different people by playing different stuff."

Park Place

Music in the Park's lineup was recently announced. Dear Liza (July 17), Toots and the Maytals (July 31), Chris Botti (August 7), Big Bang Beat (Aug. 14), Pete Escovedo (Aug. 21), Charlie Musselwhite (Aug. 28), Buckwheat Zydeco (Sept. 4). The South Bay Blues Revue opens the series on July 10. The free shows are every Thursday, 5­8pm, in Plaza de Cesar Chavez Park in downtown San Jose. ... In other news, What It Is celebrates its CD release at the Agenda on Saturday (June 28).

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From the June 26-July 2, 1997 issue of Metro.

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