OF THE HEART, OF THE SOUL AND OF THE CROSS:
THE UTOPIAN EXPERIENCE
P. M. Dawn (Gee Street 314-510 276) These days, the term "pop rap" is usually applied as an insult, suggesting a combination of obvious samples and unimaginative rhymes. That's hardly the case with P. M. Dawn's idiosyncratic debut, "Of the Heart, of the Soul and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience." Between the quietly churning beats and lush layers of sound built into the group's backing tracks, P. M. Dawn's raps are exquisitely listener-friendly. Yet as catchy as these tracks are, they never condescend to the listener the way pop rap usually does, creating entirely new grooves out of half-remembered song-bites, like the slice of Spandau Ballet's "True" that crops up in "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss." A pleasant surprise.
MONTY PYTHON SINGS
Monty Python (Virgin 91781)
Quite a few people have written funny songs over the years, but none quite like those composed by the comedy combine Monty Python. Almost any topic was grist for their mill, from the drinking habits of famous thinkers ("Bruces' Philosophers Song") to the sanctity of Catholic reproduction ("Every Sperm Is Sacred"), and they had few qualms about butchering sacred cows (or, in the case of the "Spam Song," popular potted meat products). All of which makes "Monty Python Sings" sure to upset the easily offended, but great fun for the rest of us.
COOL HAND LOC
Tone-Loc (Delicious Vinyl 314-510 609)
"Wild Thing" may have made Tone-Loc an overnight sensation, but it didn't exactly suggest that this gravel-voiced rapper had a long and lucrative career ahead of him. After all, the rhymes were all written by Young M. C. (who has since built a solo career of his own) while the beats were the work of producers Matt Dike and Michael Ross. Yet "Cool Hand Loc," Tone-Loc's sophomore effort, sizzles nonetheless. Granted, a lot of the credit remains with Dike and Ross, who excel at nasty funk grooves cobbled together from sly samples (like the "Funky Kingston" riff slipped into "Funky Westside") and live musicians (as on the lazy "Mean Green"). But Tone-Loc's rhymes are nothing to sneeze at, thanks to the self-deprecating wit of raps like "Fatal Attraction" and "Freaky Behavior."
44TH STREET SUITE
McCoy Tyner (Red Baron 48630)
What, exactly, is traditional jazz? Youngsters like Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr. might think that it's a sort of stylistic nostalgia, but a better answer might be that tradition is really a matter of finding new ways to apply old ideas. At least, that's the argument advanced by McCoy Tyner's new album, "44th Street Suite." Recorded with saxophonists David Murray and Arthur Blythe, its hearkens back to the classic recordings of John Coltrane, yet never seems hackneyed or imitative. Instead, the playing is fiery, fresh and exciting, obviously indebted to what has gone before and eager to push beyond it.