Tha Dogg Pound
During Death Row Records' mid-1990s peak, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and 2Pac deservedly got much of the notoriety. But often overlooked in the Death Row machine were producer-rapper Daz Dillinger and rapper Kurupt, a.k.a. Tha Dogg Pound. They teamed with Snoop last year for a reunion of sorts and return here pared down to a duo on the largely impressive "Dogg Chit."
Daz, longtime collaborator Soopafly and Ivan Johnson handle the funk-inspired beats on the 14-cut album, which aren't as sonically sharp as much of Daz's better work, but still contains plenty of thump. Daz also delivers high-octane raps that win because of their delivery, not their complexity, while Kurupt earns points on all lyrical fronts, as his odd phrasing and vast vocabulary provide for some interesting passages.
The low-register piano keys, wicked keyboards and intense drums of "Anybody Killa," which features an impressive guest turn from the Game, rings with a pleasing gangsta edge as Daz, Kurupt and the Game pledge allegiance to their respective street stripes. Indeed, violence makes up the majority -- and the best -- of the subject matter, as evidenced on the chilling "Mo Murder" and the driving "Get Out My Way." "Dogg Chit" doesn't stand up to Tha Dogg Pound's best output, but it shows that Daz and Kurupt remain a formidable duo.
Austin takes us back, and up
"Avant Gershwin" (Rendezvous)
As Austin filigrees her smooth, trumpet-like vocals onto these big-band arrangements of George and Ira Gershwin classics, she becomes the lead instrument in a lush, lively sound. The high-energy music-making arises from intellectual inquiry, resulting in an album's worth of fresh perspectives on music that has been memorably interpreted by three-quarters of a century of jazz, pop and cabaret performers.
Recording-studio pristine -- though it was largely recorded live with the WDR Big Band of Cologne, Germany -- the album, arranged and conducted by Michael Abene, luxuriates in eight single-song excursions and medleys, most lasting six minutes or more.
The knockout statement is made in a nearly 17-minute medley of songs from "Porgy and Bess," many snatched from the mouths of the show's male characters. The soft, reassuring caress of "A Woman Is a Sometime Thing" suggests the exact opposite of the title. Bursts of irrepressible energy erupt between the slow, sustained verses of "It Ain't Necessarily So," expanding into a cavorting, carefree "I Got Plenty o' Nothin'."
"Swanee" has been re-imagined as a slow, hushed love song. "Lady Be Good," on the other hand, is taken at a fast tempo, with Austin swapping scatted lines with blasting horns.
The 12-minute opening medley is a compendium of complementary and contrasting colors, displaying the many sounds of which Austin and the band are capable as they romp through "Fascinatin' Rhythm," "Slap That Bass," "Clap Yo' Hands" and "Strike Up the Band."
Daryl H. Miller
A vintage gem worth digging for
"Maude Maggart Live"
Encountering this album is like happening upon a cache of long-lost 1930s and '40s recordings. With her old-time voice -- fast vibrato, dark-honey tone, phrases exhaled like one long sigh -- Maggart recaptures a time when romance purred through so many great songs.
Recorded live mostly at the Gardenia in L.A. and the Oak Room in New York, the album captures Maggart's intimate cabaret sound as she collaborates with pianist Lanny Meyers and the occasional reed or string player. National publications have noticed, and her self-released disc is being buzzed about.
The album begins with the long, silky phrases of "Deep Purple" and continues with the sly, sexy "I Can't Get Started," paired with the jumpy energy of "Let's Begin."
"You Go to My Head," which bubbles with the Champagne intoxication of love, is paired with a shimmering rendition of "Prelude to a Kiss." The rising and falling melodies of "Deep in a Dream" and "I Had the Craziest Dream" also are paired, with Maggart seeming to breathe the phrases in and out, as though their descriptions of love were like oxygen: the essence of life.
Maggart pours a band singer's passion into such songs, her inspiration explained in between-song patter that relates the story of her maternal grandparents, who were a singer and reed player.
Closing the album, "Skylark" flutters aloft on the wings of yearning, soaring toward rapture in "The River Is So Blue."
Albums are reviewed on a scale of four stars (excellent), three stars (good), two stars (fair) and one star (poor).