Track to burn: "This"
-- Timothy C. Davis
Common Sense (nee Lonnie Lynn) has always been a rapper of promise — with his 2002 album Electric Circus, he pre-Love Below-ed Outkast's Andre 3000. Common also created a deep-cut backpack must-have with Like Water For Chocolate, and even found himself name-dropped by Jay-Z ("I wanna rhyme like Common Sense"). With Be, Common has created this year's first hip-hop essential, an album that, for sheer cohesion, even tops his producer Kanye West's bestselling The College Dropout. Thanks to the abundance of organic instrumentation — upright bass, analog keyboard — perhaps a better comparison would be with A Tribe Called Quest's The Low End Theory. From the simplest of instrumentation (see "Be" and "The Food"), Common and West are able to simultaneously meld the streetwise and the sociological, the old school with the new (West still likes speeding up the choruses of old soul, but the effect is less noticeable here than on Dropout). It's such a cohesive statement, in fact, that the album seems way shorter than its already-clipped 40-some minutes. Creating an existential hip-hop mini-masterpiece in a world filled with bloated, boast-filled double LPs? Why, that sounds like Common Sense to me.
Track to burn: "Be"
-- Timothy C. Davis
Gianluigi Trovesi and Gianni Coscia
Round About Weill
Italian jazz duo Trovesi (piccolo and alto clarinets) and Coscia (accordion) interpret one of the more baffling and creative composers of the 20th century on Round About Weill. About a third of the compositions are originals and the rest interpenetrations of Kurt Weill's works. The recording is like a question-and-answer session in which one musician goads the other into melodic directional changes. Weill's "Alabama Song" gets a freewheeling treatment while the duo takes the original compositions, often interspersed with hints of tango and Mediterranean folk melodies, back into Weill territory. The free association of jazz improvisation is at play here, but the works are deliberate and the duo manages to transport willing ears to the smoky cabarets of the Weill's war-tormented Germany. Weill (1900-1950) is not easily covered, but the combination of woodwinds and accordion here unleash subtle yet prescient notes that can rattle the complacent and give solace to the converted.
Track to burn: "Tango Ballade"
-- Samir Shukla
Tijuana Sessions Vol. 3
Ever driven across the border from Southern California into Tijuana and just breathed in the cacophony: voices in Spanish and English; honking pick-ups and grinding gear boxes; wailing, accordion-driven banda, ranchera and norteo, the music of northern Mexico. Nortec, a contraction of norteo and techno, combines traditional instruments such as drums, bass, accordions and big, fat, jazzy horns with break beats, samples, electronic waves and various sounds cribbed from the streets of America's cultural crossroads. It's a dizzying, eclectic mix of music that doesn't yet even have a name. Mexitronica? Nah. That doesn't do it justice.
Track to burn: "Tijuana Makes Me Happy"