RECORDS / New releases

Brian Eno: Brian Eno I & II (Virgin, three CDs each). Renaissance dabbler; bald eminence; man whose second name is an anagram of eon: Brian Eno, this is a part of your life. It is satisfying to watch someone who is most celebrated as a catalyst and collaborator shuffle modestly centre-stage, and the cold, calm confines of the boxed set are a suitable setting for Eno's distinctive talent. The organising principle behind these two solo collections is Eno I for instrumentals and Eno II for vocal performances, and the respective tones are set by the accompanying essay books (one by an uncharacteristically heartfelt Paul Morley, the other by Eno's former workmate David Toop). The musical selections bounce blithely from album to album, backwards and forwards in time, with the same gleeful imperviousness to orthodoxy that their author has always displayed.

It is not out of perversity that the instrumental set comes first. Eno is currently most revered in his capacity as Godfather of Ambience, and this selection is a botanical garden for the mind, to be wandered in at leisure. I'd forgotten how beautiful Music for Airports is - 16 minutes of it is not enough. My favourite of all these tender washes of sound, though, would have to be 'Dawn Marshland', from Music for Films III, if having favourites didn't go against the grain of the whole exercise.

The vocal set starts at a peak with eight songs from the epoch-making Here Come the Warm Jets, currently celebrating its 20th anniversary, but there are other highlights too. Among the five tunes from last year's unreleased LP My Squelchy Life, there are three minor pop classics. 'Stiff' is especially fine - 'I wanna be held, I wanna be schooled, I wanna have every plea for mercy overruled'. There is no need to worry about this man's contribution being finished. No doubt he is already hard at work on his next project: transcribing the telephone directory into the Cyrillic alphabet and then humming it in Spanish. Ben Thompson

George Clinton: Hey Man . . . Smell My Finger (Paisley Park, CD/LP/tape). Too wayward a spirit to capitalise on the success of Atomic Dog in the early Eighties, George has had to look on more or less as a spectator as others have built a hugely profitable gangsta rap edifice on his Funkadelic foundations. This, the second major attempt to cash in on his legacy, comes, like 1989's little-bought Cinderella Theory, through the good offices of Prince, his most celebrated disciple. It's a much better record than its predecessor though, with the same gleeful, loose- limbed feel that made Clinton and Co's Seventies canon so essential. On a very funny 'Paint the White House Black', he achieves the seemingly impossible - bringing warring former NWA compadres Ice Cube and Dr Dre together in good-humoured debate. 'Listen to the real Clinton. Who, Bill Clinton? Hell No, I'm talking about George Clinton.' BT

Tougher than Tough: The Story of Jamaican Music (Island, four CDs). As Chris Blackwell - who brought reggae to the world - says in his introduction to this 95-song set, Jamaica's gift to music has been out of all proportion to its population. Men such as Prince Buster, U- Roy, Bob Marley and Lee Perry changed not merely the sound of pop music but its very conceptual basis. Nobody, not even James Brown or Andy Warhol, did more to break down the hegemony of the three-minute song based on the 12-bar blues or the 32-bar Broadway ballad, by which Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and Otis Redding were equally bound. Here, in these five hours of recordings, we see Jamaican music emerge from its early imitation of Fats Domino and Curtis Mayfield into a period when it made its own rules, distorting European time-frames and notions of what constituted a 'lead vocal'. Toasting led to rap; dub led to ambient house. With such historical surveys as this, it's always tempting to identify a particular period when the idiom existed in a brief state of grace, technique and innocence in perfect balance, and to deplore its further development. True enough, as with most artistic revolutions, reggae was at its most interesting before it went international. A Toots Hibbert or a Delroy Wilson, a Desmond Dekker or an Alton Ellis struggling to express himself in a dialect version of the language of early-Sixties American soul singers is a far more affecting sound than that of a Shabba Ranks or a Buju Banton, for whom the battle is won. But whether or not you think that reggae is finished as a creative form, Tougher than Tough is an immaculately gripping and vastly entertaining account - carefully compiled, cleverly packaged, fulsomely annotated - of its amazing journey from Trenchtown to the world. Richard Williams

John Coltrane: Expression (Impulse GRP 11312, CD/tape). His shadow lengthens still, and this record is as good an explanation as

any of what made John Coltrane a unique force. Taped a few months before his untimely death in 1967, this final session features his last group, a line-up that still excites controversy. The saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, the pianist Alice McLeod Coltrane and the drummer Rashied Ali address their material in the devotional mode favoured by the great man in his later years. One unreleased 12-minute track is added to the original issue, further enhancing an important release. RW

THE IoS PLAYLIST

THE FIVE BEST DISCS OF THE MOMENT

Vaughan Williams: Five Tudor Portraits, etc. Bach Choir, New Philharmonia/Willcocks (EMI, CD). Classic choral recording from the Sixties. Michael White

Schumann: Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, Op 39. Thomas Quasthoff/Roberto Szidon (RCA Red Seal, CD). Finely shaded, focused singing from Quasthoff, a true lieder specialist. MW

k d lang: Even Cowgirls get the Blues (Sire, LP/ CD/tape). Instrumentals and vocal performances to bring out the cowgirl in everyone. BT

Pulp: Lipgloss (Island, single). Majestically overwrought pop fluff. BT

Kate Bush: Moments of Pleasure (on The Red Shoes, EMI, LP/CD/tape). A smile and a tear from the Welling siren. BT

(Photograph omitted)

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