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Arts & Entertainment Preview - November 2000

Popular Music and Jazz
B Y   B O B   B L U M E N T H A L   &   C H A R L E S   M.   Y O U N G

A Trio With Brio

   The Bill Charlap Trio

If Bill Charlap has a greater sensitivity than most young jazz pianists to the melodic and emotional richness of standards, it may be because his father was a songwriter and his mother a band singer. He was clearly also raised to value the lift and momentum of well-turned improvisations created among sympathetic partners, and he has steadily built his reputation as a player worth watching through his tenure with the quintet of the alto saxophonist Phil Woods. Four years ago Charlap began working under his own name with the bassist Peter Washington and the drummer Kenny Washington, unrelated but ideally matched musicians, and the three have developed an affinity that shines in the classic environs of the piano trio. Written in the Stars (Blue Note), the group's third disc together and first on a U.S. label, displays what is becoming the Charlap trademark: quality material played with lyrical cogency and rhythmic snap. "Dream" and "Lorelei" are among less-common choices that inspire the trio's focused swing, while more-familiar titles are reinvigorated. Charlap can incorporate premodern influences without sounding anachronistic, and the Washingtons reflect their extensive time spent separately in the service of Tommy Flanagan, who is to the piano trio what Budapest is to the string quartet. --B.B.

Have Tape Recorder, Will Travel

Forty years ago a young high school teacher named Chris Strachwitz began taking a tape recorder into out-of-the-way corners of the South and Southwest in search of local music in communities whose distance from postwar culture helped to preserve indigenous styles. In the following decades the Arhoolie Records label, which Strachwitz launched in order to disseminate his early encounters with such blues poets as Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, and Big Joe Williams, became the mainstream's entrée to the zydeco of Clifton Chenier, the Cajun sounds of BeauSoleil, and the Tejano music developed along the border of Texas and Mexico by the likes of Flaco Jiménez. Documentary films, extensive reissue efforts, and the creation of a foundation to preserve vernacular music are also part of the Arhoolie legacy, but Strachwitz's personal efforts at what used to be called "field recordings" remain at the label's core. The Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection 1960-2000: The Journey of Chris Strachwitz is a five-CD overview of those sessions. Strachwitz had both the foresight to document lengthy performances where appropriate and a love of jukebox singles that ensured that Arhoolie artists would continue connecting with their public. The writer and co-producer Elijah Wald's excellent annotations help to chart the journey, which ranges from a Mississippi barber shop (where a stropped razor becomes a percussive sword) to encounters at a celebration of "sacred steel" (guitar) gospel music in Florida. --B.B.

The Protest Poets

   Malvina Reynolds

Broadside magazine started as a mimeographed and stapled collection of topical political songs in 1962 -- just the right year for such a venture, with the repression of the fifties waning, the Civil Rights Movement waxing, the folk revival in full swing, and the anti-war movement soon to come. The Best of Broadside 1962-1988: Anthems of the American Underground From the Pages of Broadside Magazine (Smithsonian Folkways), a five-CD box set, documents this era with eighty-nine songs and extensive liner notes expressing opinions that were inexpressible in the mainstream media. Niche marketing for revolutionary musicians, the magazine and the many songs its founders and contributors recorded and published thrived alongside the protest movement. Though often recorded in crude conditions by today's standards, the songs are sung with invigorating vitality, and the subjects remain oddly topical; change a detail here and there, and these exercises in moral outrage could be pulled from today's headlines. Eric Andersen, Bob Dylan, the Fugs, Janis Ian, Phil Ochs, Tom Paxton, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Pete Seeger, Nina Simone -- they're all angry about war, racism, and poverty, and they all hold the rich and powerful responsible. Some topics generate solid laughs, however. Malvina Reynolds actually had a hit in the early sixties with "Little Boxes," a deadpan dissection of housing developments and the middle-class conformists therein. The times, as Bob Dylan should have said, they aren't a-changin' much. --C.M.Y.

Bob Blumenthal is a jazz critic for The Boston Globe.

Charles M. Young reviews music for Playboy and other publications and for

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Photo Credits -- The Bill Charlap Trio: Jimmy Katz. Arhoolie Records 40th Anniversary Collection 1960-2000: Arhoolie Records. Malvina Reynolds: Diana Davies.

Copyright © 2000 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.

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