Quoth the Beastie Boys, "I'm Buddy Rich when I fly off the handle." MCA's rapping acknowledgment is a nod to the dynamic and inventive musician, who was known as the best jazz drummer of his time (especially between 1939 and 1945). Rich's never-before-released album No Funny Hats was originally recorded in 1978 at a live show at a high school in Sacramento, Calif. There are no producers or engineers, just Rich at his be-bopping, jazz swinging best. Backing him up was the Killer Force Band, a four- piece that, according to lore, would take the stage, look at one another, and with a raised fist yell "Kill!" in unison. These cats are tight, and tracks like "Tales of Rhonda Rag" demonstrate how brilliantly the brass section moved. "Bugle Call Rag" is nothing but classic Rich adrenaline, opening with a military cadence that smashes into full big band-style swing. Rich also shows off his diverse style with a couple demure numbers. "Slow Funk" is just that, sounding like the theme song to a very excellent detective show. Thank goodness someone blew the lid off of No Funny Hats -- it's perfect both as an introduction and for diehard jazz fans. -- Kara Luger
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This Island Strummer Records/Universal
The subgenre of "electroclash" has a crap name. Let's call it disco punk, and Le Tigre, a New York City trio featuring Kathleen Hanna, JD Samson, and Johanna Fateman, has always led that pack. Though it's their third album, This Island marks their major label debut, a fact that has many fans waiting with baited breath to see if their favorite musical feminists will sell out. The verdict? They haven't, and for those that mix their fun with their politics, they still do it better than most. But for a band as clever as it is confrontational (their last album Feminist Sweepstakes cried, "RU-486 if we suck your f***in' dick?"), they certainly aren't naming names like they used to, which is disappointing.
Hanna, who used to front the legendary punk group Bikini Kill, stretches her vocal talents here. "Seconds" is Hanna's punk rock rant, while "Tell You Now" is a survivor's story propped against a samba beat, which swells from Hanna's quiet and bittersweet singing to full on fierce. Whether political or not, Le Tigre wanna make you dance, and they successfully experiment with tracks like "New Kicks," a dance mix that samples Susan Sarandon's and Al Sharpton's speeches at a United For Peace rally. Their cover of "I'm So Excited" by the Pointer Sisters is just plain awful, but songs featuring Samson are actually some of the surprise winners. Samson, the butch contingent of the trio, is featured in "Don't Drink Poison," with its driving bass beats and spy-robotic lyrics, and "Viz," about the lack of visibility of lesbians in popular culture, especially amongst faux-dyke poseurs. (Le Tigre appears at the Fox Theatre in Boulder on Nov. 9.) -- Kara Luger
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From Greece with Love font> Agnes Baltsa Deutsche Grammophon
Thanks to the 2004 Olympics, DG has just rereleased this priceless soulful recording of Greek songs by Mikis Theodorakis and other 20th-century Greek contemporaries. Accompanied by Stavros Xarhakos' Athens Experimental Orchestra, with solo bouzouki by Kostas Papadopoulos, mezzo- soprano Agnes Baltsa abandons all pretenses to the rich operatic vocalism that made her a sensational Carmen to sing with unaffected ease.
Long out-of-print, I first learned of this disc over 10 years ago from my friend Joey Cain of SF Pride, and spent the next six months searching out a used copy. Why? The music is so damn beautiful. Listen to Xarhakos' "spri méra ke ya mas (There will be better days, even for us), with its repeated downward plucks on the harp strings reinforcing Baltsa's heart-touching "I will water the time with my salt tears." It and the Barcarolle "Varkarlla" may be tearful, but other tracks feature the kind of "join hands in circle and kick up your heels" music that we remember from Zorba the Greek.
I don't know if critics initially panned this release the way they snubbed mezzo Anne Sophie von Otter's recent superb disc with Elvis Costello, but those with ears and heart will recognize its uniqueness. Don't miss this marvelous CD this time around. -- Jason Victor Serinus