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Wednesday, Jan. 10, 2007 01:03 am

Don’t fear the reaper

They don’t only embrace death, they revel in it

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Entrance Prayer of Death (TeePee)
Untitled Document When it comes to death, most sane people would prefer to put it off for as long as possible. As Dylan Thomas famously advised, “Do not go gentle into that good night/Old age should burn and rave at close of day/Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Guy Blakeslee, whose nom de rock is Entrance, takes the opposite view. Prayer of Death, Blakeslee’s third full-length, rushes headlong into death’s black maw and revels in its toxic spittle. “That old grim reaper, baby, he’s a friend of mine,” he boasts on the opening track. “Twenty-four years old now, baby, and I don’t mind dyin’.” Yeah, it’s probably just a bunch of big talk from a guy who’d no doubt plead for his life if a crazed gunman ever accosted him, but as an artistic conceit it does the trick. With cues taken from the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Prayer of Death is a dark phantasmagoria of feral electric blues, churning psychedelia, and otherworldly world music. Shrouded in grimy atmospherics and monstrous reverb, Blakeslee’s trademark guitar heroics sound deliciously evil, a quality that’s further enhanced by co-producer Paz Lenchantin’s (Zwan, A Perfect Circle) gypsy violin and death-rattle bass lines. For the sitar-centered instrumental “Requiem for Sandy Bull (R.I.P.),” the band creates a kind of crepuscular raga-boogie, paying tribute to the late electric guitar/oud visionary without specifically aping him. “Grim Reaper Blues” and “Lost in the Dark” have a more explicitly hard-rock feel, with chooglin’ rhythms and harsh in-the-red vocals that split the difference between Led Zeppelin and the Jesus and Mary Chain. Although Blakeslee’s strained tenor and occasionally dopey lyrics verge on the parodic at times (“Silence on a Crowded Train”), prodigious skills as a guitarist — Blakeslee is a self-taught left-handed player who uses a standard guitar turned the other way, as did his hero, Jimi Hendrix — are usually enough to redeem him. The lurid dirge “Pretty Baby” features an amazing pas de deux between his overdubbed guitar and Lenchantin’s violin, each instrument refracting the other in a kaleidoscope of tones and patterns, and the title track’s lovely finger-picking proves that Blakeslee is still capable of pulling off a relatively straightforward take on acoustic prewar blues when he wants to. But even buried under piles of sludge his riffs ring out with a vital incandescence, irradiating the gloom with an irresistible life force. For a corpse-hugging white boy, he’s got no shortage of soul.

If there’s anything more off-putting to the average person than avant-garde jazz, it’s advanced mathematics. Codebook, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s second album, is rooted in both disciplines. Inspired by British science writer Simon Singh’s The Code Book, the NYC-based alto saxophonist crafted nine pieces that apply concepts taken from cryptography and number theory to the compositional process, deriving new melodies and rhythms from extramusical methods. Supported by pianist and frequent collaborator Vijay Iyer, acoustic bassist François Moutin, and drummer Dan Weiss, Mahanthappa makes music that’s harmonically and structurally complex yet still satisfying on a purely sensuous plane. His sharp, somewhat brittle tone is equally suited to the frenetic flurry of “The Decider” and the lyrical, vaguely Indian-sounding post-bop balladry of “My Sweetest.” The ultra-clever “Play It Again Sam,” dedicated to Sam Morse, finds the band members spelling out their names in rhythmic dots and dashes, and “Frontburner” is an enciphered homage to John Coltrane’s classic “Giant Steps.” If this all sounds a little too cerebral for your tastes, not to worry: You don’t need to be a math geek to crack these codes. Free your ears, and your brain will follow.
Contact René Spencer Saller at rssaller@core.com.
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