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CD Reviews 

Miroslav Vitous
Universal Syncopations
(ECM Records)

Czechoslovakian acoustic bass hero Miroslav Vitous returns to the scene in rather significant fashion. A seminal figure during the early '70s progressive jazz/fusion explosion, Vitous was also one of the original members of Weather Report. A critic's favorite, Vitous has been on a recording hiatus since the 1992 release of Atmos for ECM Records. Here he reemerges with a bang, rekindling musical spirits with pianist Chick Corea, guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist Jan Gabarek and drummer Jack DeJohnette. The all-star implications are undeniable, and, as the title implies, Vitous and associates frame their ensemble work around wide-ranging rhythmic structures.

The ECM aesthetic provides a glowing aura to this set, awash with the soloist's acutely enacted harmonic inventions. Highlights abound throughout, yet the program seldom evolves into a convoluted web consisting of chops-initiated soloing endeavors. On "Bamboo Forest," DeJohnette executes an up-tempo samba groove, complete with rim-shots on top of the pulse in support of Gabarek's whispery sax work. And Vitous' ringing tone and booming patterns serve as the anchor for this date. The band delves into mid-tempo swing vamps amid a few seamlessly articulated diversions, while Corea and his fellow soloists occasionally venture into various cat-and-mouse type exchanges.

Gabarek's plaintive cries and distinctive vibrato techniques help cast an ethereal overtone to many of these works, whereas Vitous' lyrically charged bass lines pep up the finger-snapping motif heard on "Tramp Blues." And the musicians' synergistic interplay cannot be understated. -- Glenn Astarita

Andre Williams & Green Hornet
Holland Shuffle
(Norton Records)

It's a great combination: Put one of the unsung heroes of rhythm and blues with an energetic, raw rock 'n' roll trio and record them live in a country known for its permissiveness. That, in a nutshell, is Andre Williams and Green Hornet's Holland Shuffle. Williams is in top form from start to finish with this set of original tunes and sexy hits that should make exotic dancers happy the world over.

Williams has been making great music since the 1950s. Here, he is in total control, yet still singing and directing the band with reckless abandon. There are several moments where the musicians go for broke, as in their organ-pumping version of "Shake Your Tailfeather," where they push it until the last chords. Williams' sleazy charm is in full effect; there is a leer in almost every line, from when he sings "I can tell from the way that you smell" in "I Can Tell" to the chorus of "I Wanna Be Your Favorite Pair of Pajamas." Williams' backing band, Green Hornet, is well studied in '60s garage rock and go-go dancing styles, and the group's enthusiasm is obvious.

The gregarious and off-the-wall comments that Williams makes between songs are what makes this CD special. At one point, after telling all the Christians to go home because he's about to get "nasty," Williams questions the English-challenged audience to make sure they know the purpose of panties and where they are worn. By the time he and the band stomp through the classic "Jailbait," the audience has been rocked into submission. -- David Kunian


Bobby Rush
Live at Ground Zero
(Deep Rush Visuals)
He's more than a little bit sexy and more than a little bit raunchy. His live act is legendary, and that's why Bobby Rush's new CD, Live at Ground Zero, is so eagerly anticipated. Bobby Rush has been singing and playing the blues for more than 40 years, and that comes out in his consummate professionalism. He has honed his act traveling by bus from nightclubs to blues joints all over the Chitlin' Circuit, and this CD samples one of his performances from the heart of the blues, Clarksdale, Miss.

Rush's songs deal with the tried-and-true blues themes: beautiful women ("She's So Fine") and the tricks that men and women play on each other ("Sue" and "I Ain't Studdin' You.") Rush often puts a humorous spin on his versions of these songs -- a woman tells her cheating man "what's good for the goose is good for the gander, too." However, unlike many blues musicians, Rush has a more modern and less raw or rock 'n' roll sound to his music. There are synthesizers and bass guitars that sound like 1970s Kool & the Gang.

Though it might sound sexist, listening to the CD deprives Rush fans of enjoying his legendary booty-shaking dancers. That problem is fixed, however, on the companion DVD, as his dancers reflect the tradition of shake dancers who used to perform in the black theaters and vaudeville clubs -- the same type of venues that Rush plays in now. On both discs, Rush's charisma and his dancers' ample abilities show why he is known for being possibly the best live act in the country. -- Kunian

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