POWER OF LOVE
Luther Vandross (Epic 46789)
What makes Luther Vandross seem a cut above all the other satin-voiced soul men crowding the airwaves these days isn't his vocal range or technical ability -- it's his taste. Spend some time with "Power of Love," and what stands out about the album isn't Vandross' voice so much as his sense of melody and rhythm. That maybe why his performances seem deceptively effortless; because he knows how to shape his phrases to match the groove, his voice seems almost to float into those high notes. But give him room to emote, and his intensity is obvious, whether with a testifying love tune like the title track or a jaunty, new-jack number like "I Can Tell You That." Sex has been a favorite subject of dance songs ever since people realized that "it's just like dancing." Most of the time, though, the idea is to make having sex seem like a lot of fun. Oddly, that's not the case with "People Are Still Having Sex," the first single from "LaTour." Despite some salacious sound effects and a keep-doing-it vocal, there's nothing at all sexy about the song -- its synth-driven beat is too lifeless and mechanical for that. Nor is the rest of the album any improvement; apart from the industrial edge added to "Allen's Got a New Hi-Fi," LaTour's house music is rarely worth visiting.
IN THIS LIFE
Mordred (Noise 4829)
At first, Mordred sounds like any other contemporary metal act -- heavy on the overdriven guitar, lock step drumming and squealing, note-splattering solos -- until, unexpectedly, a snatch of James Brown leaps out of the mix. Scratching? On a heavy metal album?? Well, yeah. Although most of Mordred's "In This Life" sounds like standard-issue thrash and burn, the tricks Aaron Vaughan plays on his turntables add an exciting edge to songs like "The Strain." And should the band ever start writing songs as interesting as its sound, Mordred will be a force to be reckoned with.
Jonas Hellborg (Axiom 165 539 898)
A lot of jazz men play acoustic bass, and a fair number play bass guitar, but Jonas Hellborg is perhaps the only soloist of note who plays acoustic bass guitar. After hearing his work on "The Word," though, it would be easy to understand why other bassists would want to join him. Not only does his instrument combine the crisp articulation of an electric bass with the warm, singing tone of an acoustic bass or cello, but Hellborg has provided himself with a remarkably flattering accompaniment of drums (played by percussion powerhouse Tony Williams) and string quartet. What results is tasteful and intelligent, a sound that captures the interplay of jazz, the energy of fusion and the well-honed dynamics of chamber music.