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Thursday, Feb. 23, 2006 10:04 pm

A Kink in the pink

Ray Davies proves he's the best of the aging '60s British invaders

Ray Davies Other People’s Lives (V2)

Ray Davies
Other People’s Lives

Of all the aging veterans of the ’60s British Invasion, Ray Davies has held up the best. Sure, Mick has harder abs and Sir Paul a fatter wallet, but the former Kinks frontman has something far more important: his dignity. He doesn’t need to strut around in hip-huggers or simper obligingly at his Grammy bud Jay-Z because — sound the trumpets! — he can still write songs. The man who gave us “Waterloo Sunset,” “Shangri-La,” “Oklahoma, U.S.A.,” “Victoria,” and countless other works of unadulterated brilliance remains a vital creative force, his genius undimmed by the decades. He might not have the mass cachet of his richer and more media-savvy peers, but he has much less to answer for. If you don’t count 1998’s The Storyteller, which featured new versions of Kinks songs amid spoken-word monologues, Other People’s Lives is Davies’s first solo album, and it’s a triumph through and through. The opening track, “Things Are Gonna Change (The Morning After),” a noisy anthem with squealing guitars and a killer bridge, announces the album’s theme of qualified optimism: “Get up, you wreck/And crawl out through the door/Love will return.” It’s a survivor’s manifesto, as befits a guy who recently endured the protracted dissolution of his band, his bandmate brother’s debilitating stroke, a gunshot wound to the leg during a mugging in his adopted home of New Orleans, and the loss of said home after Hurricane Katrina. Other standouts include the caustic but never self-pitying “All She Wrote,” a breakup ballad embellished by an unforgettable descending melody; “Creatures of Little Faith,” a lovely open-hearted paean to human frailty; “The Getaway (Lonesome Train),” which recalls the avant-la-lettre alt-country of the Kinks’ landmark Muswell Hillbillies album; and the improbably funky, impossibly moving “Over My Head.” Fans of Davies’s humorous character studies might prefer “Next Door Neighbour,” a vaudevillian ditty that wouldn’t seem out of place on The Village Green Preservation Society, and “Stand Up Comic,” a crude but very funny meditation on the redemptive powers of bathos. And although the flamenco-flavored title track, a somewhat predictable screed about evil paparazzi, is something of a disappointment, it’s still a sight better than anything Mick or Paul has written in the past couple of decades.

Matthew Shipp
(Thirsty Ear)

Matthew Shipp is a pianist and composer whose music is variously described as free jazz, avant-garde classical, and experimental hip-hop. None of these terms is inaccurate, exactly, but none begins to convey the scope and originality of his vision. Sometimes Shipp’s music suggests a kind of deconstructed riff on turn-of-the-previous-century impressionism, evoking the watery lyricism of Claude Debussy, the voluptuous Orientalism of Maurice Ravel, the spidery proto-minimalism of Erik Satie. Sometimes it sounds like a natural offshoot of Cecil Taylor’s knotty conundrums or Thelonious Monk’s ravishing post-bop études. Depending on your frame of reference, you might detect traces of other important forebears, but rest assured: These influences are so smoothly assimilated, so thoroughly distilled by Shipp’s own offbeat genius, that the resultant compositions sound as original as one could reasonably expect in our post-postmodern age. If one thing is certain about Shipp’s music, it’s this: It’s very beautiful, but it doesn’t yield its pleasures immediately. Long legato runs surrender to sharp, brittle triads, and luminous melodies subside in abstract cogitations. At times, it seems willfully, perversely cerebral; at others, unfashionably Romantic. One, Shipp’s third solo outing, might consist entirely of acoustic piano, but it’s no less experimental than his recent cross-pollinations of outside jazz and turntablism. From the rumbling, reverberant excursions of “Arc” to the dense chromatic clusters of “Patmos” and the cascading, atonal patterns of “Module,” One is a spectacular union of pianistic technique and compositional ingenuity.
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