Sonny FortuneA Better Understanding
A WONDERFUL FOLLOW-up to last year's Four In One, a tribute to the music of Thelonious Monk, A Better Understanding features reedman Fortune in a predominately quartet setting playing his own compositions. Fortune, perhaps Miles Davis' most sympathetic collaborator during his brilliant '70s experimental period (Get Up With It, Agharta, Pangaea), is decidedly more traditional here. Playing in a variety of styles from Afro-Cuban rhythm to be-bop workouts, Fortune never fails to swing. A personal favorite is the soprano sax/flute work done by Sonny on the opening track "Mind Games," but all cuts are winners. A class act all the way down to the stylishly retro Blue Note cover.
WAS THERE EVER such an annoying vocalist? Like a bad foot rash, Merchant's back, looking more like June Cleaver than a Gypsy Princess this time around. Call her the Stevie Nicks of the Prozac Generation. Her former band, 10,000 Wingnuts, was excruciating enough, but at least there was a coherent, if overly ornate, rock 'n' rollness to the sound. Merchant's diary scribblings and affected, eweish bawls are about as passionate and inspiring as a trip to a frozen foods department. She's even written a song about River Phoenix, the James Dean Of The Prozac Generation. Up next on Oprah: "I Was Molested By An Obsessive, Clove Cigarette-Puffing Fan."
USUALLY OVERLOOKED IN retrospectives of Sinatra's career is his ability to avoid career death working risky material, especially during the late '60s and early '70s. Sinatra regularly stuck his head in the lion's mouth by recording the works of unknown writers, pulling out with more grace than was the case when rerecording pop hits from the likes of John Denver and Neil Diamond. Here's the quintessential risk for the feel-good music market with a three-minute attention span: Watertown is a concept album centering on a wife who leaves her children and spouse (guess who) and, doubling the potential for the maudlin, closing with a less-than-happy ending. Yet Sinatra's great delivery of the tunes by Bob Gaudio and Jake Holmes (are they gas station attendants today?) makes Watertown the equivalent of a good weeper movie worth revisiting a month later. Bless the Frank one for boldly risking a story album, something no one braves writing or recording these days. Watertown is a high point in the downward spiral Sinatra's career was beginning to take, proving that changes in age and voice left his romanticism as stable as ever.
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