THE SHOW, THE AFTER-PARTY, THE HOTEL
Jodeci (Uptown/MCA 11258)
There's nothing inherently wrong with concept albums; problems arise only when there's no real content to the concept. That seems the case with Jodeci's new album, "The Show, The After-Party, the Hotel." That the group can bring a certain measure of consciousness and class to sex-you-up R&B is clear enough in sweet, slow-grind ballads like "Freek 'n You" and the sexy, sinuous "Get On Up." But let's face it -- even sex gets boring without context or variation, and Jodeci's concept provides little of either. Built around a fantasy in which the group gets swept into a netherworld of groupies and gratuitous partying, it pushes the notion of self-absorbed stardom to embarrassing new heights. Maybe next time they can skip the concept (and the silly, between-songs dramatic interludes) and simply focus on the music. Here's a suggestion: Call it "The Songs, the Album, the Hits."
Bruce Hornsby (RCA 66584)
A lot of people in popular music get by strictly on the basis of their songs, meaning that if there isn't magic in the chorus, the recording is a dead loss. Bruce Hornsby, though, is the kind of musician who can make even the slimmest of melodies seem fat with possibility, and he plays that strength to full advantage on "Hot House." His pianistic prowess is dazzling enough -- the percussive power and rich, singing tone he gets in "Spider Fingers" will impress even the casual listener -- but the album's greatest strength is the way Hornsby inspires the other players, leaving plenty of room in the jazzy "White Wheeled Limousine" for Bela Fleck and Pat Metheny to trade solos, and even giving Jerry Garcia a chance to stretch some in the surging, Doobie-ish "Cruise Control." There are several strong songs here, as "White Wheeled Limousine" and "The Tango King" are as catchy as any of Hornsby's best.
THE WIZARD OF OZ: DELUXE EDITION
Original Soundtrack (Rhino/Turner Movie Classics 71964)
Even though most of us remember it in strictly cinematic terms, the fact is that "The Wizard of Oz" was a musical at heart. Just how much skill went into crafting that musical, however, has never been as obvious as with "The Wizard of Oz: Deluxe Edition." Although anyone familiar with the film will delight in again hearing such familiar favorites as "Over the Rainbow," "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead" and "We're Off to See the Wizard," serious students of the film will be thrilled by the amount of new material included in this double-disc set. Not only are there outtakes and rehearsal tapes (including a lovely, unused reprise of "Over the Rainbow" and a much clearer version of the Munchkin feature "The Lollipop Guild"), but many of the orchestral pieces are offered in extended versions. All told, it's the next best thing to heading down the yellow brick road yourself!
Kenny Garrett (Warner Bros. 45731)
There are few more exacting tests of a saxophonist's abilities than to record with a piano-less trio. Then again, there are few saxophonists who can make that task seem as easy as Kenny Garrett does on "Triology." Working from a songbook that draws as much from Cole Porter as it does from John Coltrane, Garrett displays a masterful command of melodic manipulation, stretching the material to its limits without rendering it too abstract to follow. But as much as his lithe, insightful approach brings to such tunes as "Giant Steps" and "Night and Day," it's the subtle power of the rhythm section that ultimately makes this album a winner. Like Ron Carter and Tony Williams, Kiyoshi Kitagawa and Brian Blade bring an admirable mix of strength and subtlety to their rhythm work, fleshing out the musical possibilities so precisely that it's sometimes hard to believe that "Triology" is the work of three people.