Viva! La WomanCibo Matto (Warner Bros. 45989)Cibo Matto is...

CD REVIEWS

January 25, 1996|By J. D. Considine

Viva! La Woman

Cibo Matto (Warner Bros. 45989)

Cibo Matto is a Japanese duo (Miho Hatori and Yuka Honda) with an Italian name (which translates roughly as "food madness") that writes, sings and raps in English (well, sort of). Not your typical pop group, in other words. Nor is there anything predictable about the sound of Cibo Matto's debut, "Viva! La Woman." Its 10 food-obsessed songs offer a veritable smorgasbord of pop styles, serving up everything from dub bass and ambient synth washes to sampled spaghetti western music and borrowed Brazilian pop grooves. Yet as wide-ranging as its sources are, there's never anything inaccessible or obscure about Cibo Matto's sound; everything fits perfectly into place, so that each element in the mix functions as a sort of hook. And even though Hatori and Honda rarely write traditional pop tunes, their melodies are as undeniable as they are immediate, from the lithe, wordless chorus of "Sugar Water" to the insistent distortion of "Birthday Cake," to the semi-nonsensical chants that drive "Beef Jerky" ("Who cares? I don't care!") and "Know Your Chicken." One taste and you'll be hungry for more.

Pushing Against the Flow

Raw Stylus (Geffen 24822)

It's easy to assume that, with a name like Raw Stylus, this British trio is entirely the product of DJ culture, relying on scratches and loops for its sense of soul. Guess again. Even though both Ron Aslan and Jules Brookes do their share of programming, there's not a song on "Pushing Against the Flow" that doesn't owe its sense of groove to live musicians -- particularly bassist Jonathan Maron and drummer Bernard Purdie. In other words, this is old-style soul played with modern attitude and technology, blending samples and synth beats with chicken-scratch guitar and brassy horn arrangements. It helps, of course, that singer Donna Gardier has the sort of supple, powerhouse voice associated with classic '70s soul, bringing heat and passion to tunes like "Believe in Me" and the lush, slow-burning "Higher Love," as well as sassy sophistication to the Steely Dan-ish "Cuban King Breeze." But as good as the individual elements are, what makes the package so addictive is the way it all comes together. Here's hoping that instead of pushing against the flow, Raw Stylus' sense of soul becomes part of the musical mainstream.

The Sky Moves Sideways

Porcupine Tree (C&S 85242)

As far as most critics are concerned, prog rock is about as progressive as a polyester leisure suit. As a result, phrases like "trippy headphone music," "meandering psychedelic guitar" and "slowly unfolding song suites" are rarely offered as compliments. But all apply to Porcupine Tree's stirringly anachronistic "The Sky Moves Sideways," and, frankly, that's something worth celebrating. Why? In part because the group works from the genre's strengths, using the large-canvas approach to paint vast portraits in sound and maintaining a strong enough sense of compositional integrity to keep the instrumental sections from floating off into the ether. As a result, even though the general sound evokes "Meddle"-period Pink Floyd (especially given Steve Wilson's penchant for liquid-toned, Gilmouresque guitar solos), the group dynamics are actually closer to that of mid-'70s King Crimson, blending brilliant improvisation with well-disciplined writing. Granted, it's still horribly unfashionable, but hey -- when was prog rock ever about fashion?

Gateway

John Abercrombie/Dave Holland/Jack DeJohnette (ECM 1562)

Jazz trios generally consist of a leader -- be it piano, guitar or saxophone -- and two followers, the latter being bass and drums. But the trio formed by John Abercrombie, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette for "Gateway" is far more egalitarian. Even though Abercrombie's guitar may seem to be the lead voice, careful listening suggests otherwise, as his lean, rhythmically inventive improvisations rarely dominate the work of bassist Holland and drummer DeJohnette. If anything, his playing often seems like commentary on what the other two are doing, elaborating on an accent pattern DeJohnette developed on the ride cymbal or sparking off a harmonic possibility suggested by one of Holland's bass lines. That's not to say the three never fall into traditional patterns of solo-and-accompaniment, as Abercrombie regularly abandons single-note lines to provide chordal accompaniment for Holland, but the best moments on this quiet, well-crafted album come when the interplay demands we give equal attention to all three musicians.

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