Digable Planets extend their reach into jazz

February 19, 1993|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

REACHIN' (A NEW REFUTATION OF TIME AND SPACE)

Digable Planets (Pendulum 61414)

Hip-hop and be-bop have more in common than just a hyphen and a rhyme, but few rap acts have drawn the connection as eloquently and imaginatively as Digable Planets does on "Reachin' (A New Refutation of Time and Space)." Where other groups might sample from James Brown or Funkadelic, the Planets build their beats around snippets of Sonny Rollins, Eddie Harris and Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, blending new and old into something both slammin' and swingin'. And while the trio's laid-back rhyming recalls the mellow cadences of De La Soul and A Tribe Called Quest, the Planets' quiet cool can be deceptive, because the points made in raps like "Rebirth of the Slick (Cool Like That)" or "Escapism (Gettin' Free)" are perceptive, persuasive and impressively put.

THE WAY WE WALK, VOLUME TWO: THE LONGS

Genesis (Atlantic 82461)

It's awfully fashionable in rock critic circles to crucify Genesis for holding on to the antiquated, art-rock values of numbers like "The Musical Box" and "Firth of Fifth." After all, not only do these pieces linger for a dozen minutes at a go, but they do so largely on the strength of interminable instrumental noodling. Consequently, the group's latest live set, "The Way We Walk, Volume Two: The Longs," has received quite a drubbing in the music mags. And that's a pity, because the performances here are anything but bloated and self-indulgent. The cleverly constructed "Old Medley" gleans the best from the band's early epics, while the likes of "Fading Lights" emphasize the band's instrumental prowess without sacrificing its melodic finesse.

WHERE YOU BEEN

Dinosaur Jr. (Sire/Warner Bros. 45108)

Anyone with a taste for Neil Young's rough-edged rockers will find a kindred spirit in Dinosaur Jr. front man J. Mascis. Like Young, Mascis has a weakness for ear-shredding guitar grunge and a decidedly casual approach to vocals, and there are moments on the Dinos' "Where You Been" that will strike some fans as the next best thing to a new album with Crazy Horse. For anyone else, however, Mascis' shrieking guitar and sloppy singing will seem a noisy annoyance, getting in the way of the melodies and undermining the appeal of tunes like "Start Choppin" and "Get Me." And though Mascis is certainly entitled to his musical mess, it's worth remembering that a band doesn't

have to be ragged to achieve glory.

FROM BULGARIA WITH LOVE

Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares (Mesa 79049)

In theory, applying the traditional harmonies of the Bulgarian State Vocal Choir -- a k a Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares -- to more pop-oriented material seems a promising idea. In practice, though, "From Bulgaria with Love" is both half-baked and insulting. Some tunes try to modernize the music by tying the singers to simplistic and mechanical dance beats; others simply slice and dice existing tracks into bad imitations of house and techno. Neither approach works, and both end up diminishing the music's charm -- in part because they undermine its original otherworldly qualities, but mostly because they reduce the Bulgarians to the level of a novelty act.

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