BARRY WHITE: STAYING POWER (Arista)
The time is right for Barry White. The R'n'B and swingbeat which dominate today's charts owe him their existence, and with Isaac Hayes starring in South Park and even Tom Jones returning to the top 10, the original Pachyderm of Passion couldn't be better placed to remind the youngsters who's boss. He doesn't do so. A lacklustre cover of Sly And The Family Stone's "Thank You" is remixed by Puff Daddy, but it sounds barely more contemporary than the rest of Staying Power's tinny, small-scale tracks. There's not a peep from the Love Unlimited Orchestra and there's only one decent melody ("Sometimes"), so unless you're turned on by hearing White purr that "soon we'll share nature's body lotion", you should play this record in your bedroom only if you fancy a snooze. Even when he advises lazy teenagers to "Stop just sittin' on yo' ass" and work for what they want, on "Get Up", the music is so soporific that it sends the opposite message.
EMILIANA TORRINI: LOVE IN THE TIME OF SCIENCE
(One Little Indian)
Emiliana Torrini is a beautiful young half-Icelandic woman, signed to One Little Indian, who makes kooky but wistful technological pop and whose voice combines power with pouting-child cuteness. There is a special award for any critic who can review her promising debut album without using the word "Bjork". Or if there isn't, Torrini should offer one, because she can't help but suffer by comparison. Her music lacks Bjork's all-important bonkers factor which means that while it's lovely to have on in the background, it's not exactly compelling. Remove the vocals and it would resemble Morcheeba's lighter, lusher take on Massive Attack- style trip-hop. And despite the co-writing of Eg White (Eg & Alice) and Roland Orzabal (Tears For Fears), several songs are let down by their twee, felt-tip-in-an-exercise-book lyrics. Torrini will be making better records soon.
KIT CLAYTON: NEK SANALET (Scape)
The principles of dub - separating the various strands of a song, extending it by repeating key phrases and then emphasising the rhythm section with added volume, echo, phasing and other studio trickery - are still required learning for today's techno producers. But the distinctive Jamaican sound of dub is regrettably rare on today's dancefloors. Nek Sanalet though, is one of the best dub-techno fusion albums since Homebrew by Clayton's fellow San Francisco resident, Subtropic. It's quite downbeat and takes a fair while to get going. But then it gets into the groove, and Clayton applies all your favourite basic dub techniques to futuristic techno tunes. Over the rumbling, reverberating bass, and a rocksteady beat, Clayton drops in disembodied voices and echoing bleeps and squelches from a combination of digital and analogue sound sources, creating, on the whole, a futuristic album that's still pleasingly faithful to the old dub template.
PILOTE: ANTENNA (Certificate 18)
Certificate 18 continue to champion the most interesting and innovative drum'n'bass from around the world with this debut album from Pilote, aka Brighton based youngster Stuart Cullen. Apparently it was made on lo-tech equipment but I don't think that fully explains why Antenna really doesn't sound like anything else around. It opens with a whistle - the sort you'd make to call a dog - repeated over a melody in a minor key and that sound you get if you scrape your nails along an electric guitar string. It closes with "Up or Down" which, with its childlike melody and downtempo tabla playing, was released as a single earlier this year. In between, you get simple, sometimes slightly off-key tunes, a very menacing ansaphone message with added feedback, some deftly manipulated vocal samples and noises which sound like an angry wasp. You also get some very funky basslines and a fantastic range of percussion styles. By turns naive and innocent then melancholy or menacing, Antenna has a distinctive taste worth acquiring.
THE AMALGAMATION OF SOUNDZ: TAOS PART II
The Amalgamation Of Soundz follow their self-titled 1997 debut with an imaginatively named sequel, consisting of five brand new tracks, two versions of the breakbeat xylophone workout "Kevyan's Paper", and the 12 inch mix of their much played "Enchant Me". The sounds they've amalgamated range from birdsong, eerie film samples, ethereal ambience and orchestral chords to funky double basslines, blasting trumpets, hard rolling drums, a smattering of vocals and the aforementioned xylophone - which works surprisingly well. What holds it all together is the attention to detail, especially with the drum programming which varies in tempo from ambient, hip-hop and breakbeat, to full-on drum'n'bass, sometimes all within one track, and almost always with considerable subtlety. There's only one filler: "Resurrection", an uninspiring tech-house tune with a Paul Simon/ Deep Forest feel to it, but filtered so it sounds as if it's being played on vinyl with a dusty needle. Everywhere else, TAOS Part II is an evocative, complex, off-kilter album. LP
VARIOUS ARTISTS: THE BEST OF TROPICALIA
In 1967 the Brazilian singer-songwriters Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil started a new arts movement -- Tropicalia - whose music mixed samba and traditional ethnic styles with rock, jazz and pop. This weird and sometimes wonderful compilation documents the results, with tracks by Gal Costa and the band Os Mutantes as well as Veloso and Gil. The influence of the Beatles is particularly evident, with baroque Sgt Pepper era traces everywhere. Even if you don't understand Portuguese, the odd word - "Existentialista," say - carries the gist of the socially conscious lyrics. Tropicalia didn't last long: in 1969 Veloso and Gil were arrested by the military dictatorship and then forced into exile. Fittingly, they chose Sgt Pepper's London. The music that began as Tropicalia is now the foundation of contemporary Brazilian pop.
JUAN DE MARCOS' AFRO CUBAN ALL STARS: DISTINTO, DIFERENTE (World Circuit)
The Cuban bandwagon rolls on and this follow-up to the group's extravagantly successful debut album of 1996, A Toda Cuba le Gusta, is once again hard to resist. The grooves are as supple as you could wish for, the playing is spirited, and the sound fat and punchy. It's a more contemporary- sounding record than before, with the opening "son moderno" summoning up the feel of international salsa, although there are still numerous nods to the past. The cast of musicians de Marcos has called upon is also larger this time round, but most of the old stars remain, with pianist Ruben Gonzalez featured on five of the 10 tracks, and vocalist Ibrahim Ferrer on two. Even if you think you are beginning to tire of Cuban music, Distinto, Diferente will soon have you dancing around the room, however badly. PJ
SHOSTAKOVICH: STRING QUARTETS 2 & 3. ST PETERSBURG QUARTET
The 15 Shostakovich string quartets rank alongside the six of Bartok as perhaps the greatest chamber music cycles of the 20th century - which is why there is no shortage of recordings, and no shortage of good ones. The readings by the Borodin Quartet which variously appear on Decca, BMG and EMI stand out. But there are similarly excellent recordings by everyone, from the veteran Fitzwilliam Quartet to the up and coming Yggdrasil. What room for any more? Well, listen to this first release in a projected cycle by the St Petersburg Quartet and you'll just have to make room: because it's one of the finest chamber recordings of any genre I've heard all year, and one that catches the idiom of the music in near-definitive terms. Tempi are faster and textures are lighter than you might expect; but the ironic temper and explosive bitterness of the composer's writing are all there as well. Superbly played and engineered, it's a magnificent beginning to what promises to be a must-hear series.
DISC OF THE WEEK
GILLES PETERSON: THE INCREDIBLE SOUND OF GILLES PETERSON (INCredible)
Radio 1 DJ, Talking Loud record label supremo, and the founder of Acid Jazz, Gilles Peterson finds another outlet for his eclectic musical taste on this fourth installment of the Levis-sponsored series of compilation albums. The concept behind the series is that respected DJs (Trevor Nelson, Goldie, Jo Whiley and Peterson so far) pick their favourite tracks from their respective fields of expertise and have their portrait taken by Rankin for the sleeve. What makes Peterson's effort the best so far is that his passion is for jazz - past, present and future - so although the only Eighties track is Arthur Blythe's "Autumn in New York", his selection spans nearly four decades. Alongside classics and original Sixties recordings such as Jimmy Smith's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf", Willis Jackson's brilliant "Nuther'n Like Thuther'n", and a bit of Seventies funk from Sons and Daughters of Life and Funkadelic, is a wide range of the Nineties sounds they've inspired. There's not much you won't find in an average edition of his Wednesday night radio show. But it's a smooth, flowing album demonstrating that the spirit of modern jazz lives on in today's left-of-centre house, breakbeat and hip-hop.