STEELY DAN'S 50%, PEPPER'S FIRE, RUDRESH RAGAS


Aug. 8-- The following are the best of
the new recordings that crossed what I laughingly call my
desk this summer. For one reason or another, they are all
recommended hot-weather listening.

WALTER BECKER, ``Circus Money'' (Mailboat): Walter
Becker and Donald Fagen of Steely Dan were arguably the
most interesting songwriting team in pop music since Lennon
and McCartney.
``Circus Money'' is like half a Steely Dan album --
and this half is better than most fulls these days. The CD
combines the best of the group's influences, from Booker T
and the MGs to Robby Shakespeare and Sly Dunbar, the Eagles
and Al Green.
The rhythms lope, the structures are loose, the
harmonies are advanced and the textures minimal. There are
no fortissimos, and the recording never loses its sense of
irony. Chris Potter seems to have discovered how to play
jazz saxophone with a rock band.
You might not appreciate the lyrics until the second
or third time listening. I like this one, from ``Bob Is Not
Your Uncle Anymore'':
``Winter is here/And the day don't last too
long/Barely thimbles worth of sunshine to go on/There's an
ocean full of midnight/Rolling right up to the door/I guess
Bob's just not your uncle anymore.''
If it wasn't so interesting, it might be soothing.
Listening to it makes me think of reading Graham Greene in
a hammock under a leafy tree on a hot afternoon. Or Oscar
Wilde. Or ee cummings. Either way, the living is easy.

ART PEPPER, ``The Croydon Concert'' (Widow's Taste):
After he arrived in Los Angeles from New York, the
trombonist Jimmy Cleveland remarked how hard it was to play
the blues under a palm tree. The late Art Pepper, who grew
up in the West Coast city, was one of the few who knew how
to do that.
What separates the great from the merely good is being
willing and able to deal with your emotions in public more
than demonstrating your musicality and practicing a lot. To
never play the same thing twice requires taking risks.
Pepper plays the saxophone as though he has nothing
left to lose, he already has come back from losing
everything. He is betting the bank, his heart is on his
sleeve, his fingers are moving on their own, his will is
overpowering.
In his autobiography, ``Straight Life,'' Pepper wrote
that the first time he used heroin, he knew that was how he
wanted to feel for the rest of his life. He was in and out
of prison on drug charges for the better part of a decade.
Recorded in 1981 in Croydon, England, this two-CD
package came on the market for the first time earlier this
year. Like Sue Mingus with Charles, Pepper's widow Laurie,
who co-wrote ``Straight Life,'' has been working to
preserve her late husband's work (thus the name of her
record company).
The rhythm section of Bulgarian pianist Milcho Leviev,
and the bassist Bob Magnusson with Carl Burnett on drums,
burns. They play as though their lives depend on it. This
is Pepper's ``comeback'' record.
He was one of the few alto saxophonists who dared not
to sound like Charlie Parker, but he maintained a
comparable energy level. It is almost as though bebop
itself has come back (not that it ever left).

RUDRESH MAHANTHAPPA, ``Kinsmen'' (PI Recordings): Born
in Trieste, Italy, the Indian-American, saxophone-playing
Mahanthappa grew up in Boulder, Colorado, and now lives in
New York.
Collaborating with his kinsman, the Indian ``Emperor
of the Saxophone,'' Kadri Golpinath, Mahanthappa combines
the rhythmic diversity and harmonic complexity of jazz with
the melodic and metrical rigor of Indian classical music
(ragas, for example).
This deserves a more detailed review, but ``Kinsmen''
arrived on deadline day, and I wanted to get it out fast
because breaking news like this is rare in Paris in August.