Live in Swing City: Swinging with Duke (Columbia Records) ***

Wynton Marsalis and his bow-tie crowd insist this isn't about nostalgia. The big band and blues songs of Duke Ellington aren't outdated or irrelevant, they say. But there's no denying that Marsalis sees himself as a historian as well as a trumpeter and band leader, and his orchestra's latest project is an unerring reproduction of the trademark Ellington sound. Particularly striking are the deft bends, glissandos, and growls in the solos, which sound more like shouts of praise or heated arguments than jazz improvisation. Those solos, combined with deadly tight orchestral maneuvers, give the impression that bop and free jazz never happened. Marsalis is obviously a perfectionist in a time when personal expression, however sloppy, is the jazz ideal. But watch out--this album may be somewhere south of the cutting edge, but Wynton's new traditionalism is capable of stroking the old school fool in anyone. NATHAN THORNBURGH


(Self-Released) **

There are often two separate standards for musicians--one for local groups, and a much higher one for national groups. Local performers, after all, deserve space to develop without being knocked around by word mongers such as myself. It gets more complicated, though, with someone like Omar Torrez, a local player who has clearly graduated from the gaggle of developing hometown musicians. His virtuoso guitar playing, his knack for mixing flamenco, rock, and jazz, and his outstanding band give him the potential to be a national act. His singing, however, is not nearly as accomplished as his playing. Likewise, the quality of his songwriting varies widely: Many tunes are solid, but the lead song, "Sister Starlight," rams a jarring anthem-rock chorus up the arse of an otherwise sound flamenco groove. My recommendation then, is necessarily ambivalent: Go see all his shows, but wait for his next album to add something to your permanent collection. NT


(Thrill Jockey) **

Christ, I think it a shame when I feel mo' concern 'bout what oughta be "educated" media constantly callin' bands like the Nerves "punk" when they AIN'T. I s'pose, NOW, you cain't trust nobody UNDER 30! What we REALLY gittin' is late '80s "indie" as it were, with the same "punk" pretenses. Oddly, they ridin' what was at the time (still is) unlabeled "post-hardcore" somethin' er other... "post-hardcore" bein' generally idiosyncratic, often regionally unified "sound-wise," highly spirited, pre-Melvins ("grunge") 'n' Breadwinner (math rock) affected! However, New Animal don't got none o' that period's passion. Rather, the band seems to be inclined to refer farther back, makin' 'em sound confused. MIKE NIPPER

MINISTRY Dark Side of the Spoon

(Warner Bros) ***

In the aftermath of Filth Pig, Ministry's 1996 abomination, fans of the band's tongue-in-cheek electro-metal had to satisfy their craving for heavy riffs and rank humor with the empty calories of Rob Zombie's shameless Al Jourgenson parody. But where Filth oozed angst and bad memories, Dark Side echoes the black comedy that made Ministry a household name. Thankfully, they've rediscovered their obese absurdity. Jourgenson's underwater vocals and Paul Barker's plodding bass on "Eureka Pile" resonate with familiar RevCo fatuousness, and their trademark drill-bit whine returns on "Nursing Home." But Ministry also raises the stakes with "Supermaniac Soul" and "Bad Blood"--relentless, metallic regurgitations that will curb your hunger for arena-rock anthems. DAVID SLATTON


Bringing It All Back Home Again

(Which? Records) **

I like '60s rock way more than it is healthy for someone who was born in the '80s. The harpsichord solos of Love get me off more than the heavy riffage of Korn. I think the collision of pop accessibility and avant-garde experimentation in the '60s created some of the purest musical artifacts ever. That said, would all you modern musicians please stop trying to recreate it? Sure, you can use elements of it in your music successfully (Beck, the Beta Band), but copying it wholesale isn't an artistic statement--it's just redundancy.

Take the new EP by the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Bringing It All Back Home Again. "The Way It Was" is just a Yardbirds song, harmonica break and all. "Mansion in the Sky" sounds so much like John Lennon's "Working Class Hero" that Yoko's probably filing a suit already. Songs like "Arkansas Revisited" really want to sound like Beggars Banquet (and they do), but what's the point? These are convincing imitations, but Dylan already "brought it all back home," and to do so again is a waste of time.

Right now is a very exciting time to be making music, as the advent of digital recording has brought all sorts of new possibilities. It doesn't make sense that bands like the Brian Jonestown Massacre and anyone from Elephant 6 (Apples in Stereo, especially) are still stuck on Revolver and Let It Bleed. If the Beatles and the Rolling Stones weren't dried up relics today, they would also be playing with all the new toys and contributing to the future of music, instead of impersonating their idols. PHILLIP GUICHARD


Little Johnny from the Hospital: Breaks and Instrumentals

(Rawkus) *

This album is not the follow-up to Company Flow's excellent full-length debut, Funcrusher Plus (Rawkus). It is, rather, a side project crafted by two of the group's three members: DJ Mr. Len and rapper/producer El-P, who does not rap on this album. Little Johnny's instrumental hiphop strongly suggests that Co-Flow's third and mysteriously absent member (he's not even mentioned in the album's liner notes or anywhere else), Bigg Jus, had a lot to do with Funcrusher's beats. These new tracks have all manners of disorienting samples and spiraling ambient weirdness, but lack the sorts of rhythms that gave Company Flow's best work its kick. Instead, the beats on Little Johnny are robotic and bounceless, with all the grinding, straight-ahead momentum of a Soviet tank. It sounds cool for a track or two, but gets tiresome after that. Dancing to this album is out of the question. ADAM HEIMLICH

DRAIN STH Freaks of Nature

(DefJam/Mercury) ***

This second album by Swedish dirge-rockers headbangs along a grunge-goth axis. Admirably, Drain sth makes no attempt to milk its all-female lineup and Alice in Chains-ish hooks for all they're worth marketing-wise, preferring instead to leave their music pure and unblemished for the steadfastly non-trendy. It's pretty deep, if you turn it up loud and listen alone by candlelight--you can almost sense your parents worrying about you, furrowing their brows at the bad vibes seeping through your always-closed bedroom door. AH

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