By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
In fact, Professor D & the Playschool are so unoriginal, they make Hellafied Funk Crew seem like part of the Brill Building stable by comparison. Well, that's stretching it a bit, especially if you happened to go to Fort Worth when the Family Values Tour (featuring Korn, Ice Cube, Limp Bizkit, and Rammstein) stopped through last year. Hellafied Funk Crew offers a condensed version of that lineup--both in concert and on its 1998 self-titled debut--conveniently cramming the entire concert into one band. HFC nabs Limp Bizkit's hard-rock-with-a-DJ idea, Korn's atonal guitars, Ice Cube's gangsterisms, and every band's vocals. The result is songs not unlike what passes for music these days on KDGE or KEGL, industrial-strength riffs set to a hip-hop beat with unintelligible and unintelligent lyrics rapped on top. I've tried for two years in a row to find something worthwhile about this band and have yet to come up with anything. I think I'll stop trying now. And please stop voting for it.
Winner for: Jazz
At first, it seemed relatively easy to classify Earl Harvin--jazzer first, punk second, sideman-for-hire only when his schedule allowed it. For a time, he was this close to achieving some sort of national fame as the drummer in Seal's band; at least twice he could be seen on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno, caught in fleeting glimpses behind the kit as Seal sang his flyweight top-of-the-pops soul to Leno and the home viewing audience. But something was never quite right with the picture: Harvin looked out of place, a dreadlocked and landlocked prop whose own particular genius was lost beneath so much big-money spit and polish. It's one thing to cheer the hometown boy made good, sitting pretty with a Warner Bros. paycheck in his pocket. It's something else entirely to wish him all the best on his own terms. If only Warners had been wise enough to listen to Harvin's first two records he cut for Leaning House: Earl Harvin Trio/Quartet in 1995, and Strange Happy (credited to Harvin and pianist Dave Palmer) in 1997. Perhaps then the label's executives would have known what a true waste it was that Harvin was just playing with Seal. It was like a typhoon playing second fiddle to a slight breeze.
Harvin has long been Dallas' most enigmatic performer--a jazzer once photographed for a Music Awards issue wearing a Hole T-shirt, a genius who so often lends his talents to albums by musicians whose gifts should be returned. That he managed to balance his passion for avant-punk in rubberbullet and his devotion to post-bop on his own jazz records is testament not only to his abilities but to his faculty to see beyond genre limitations. He does not discriminate, does not find it necessary to satisfy one appetite while ignoring any other. He gorges himself at the buffet and keeps coming back for more. Now, single discs full of six- or seven-minute songs no longer fulfill his cravings; he needs to keep going, out to where the air is thin and clouds become stars and pale blue becomes pitch-black. His is the sound made when restlessness does battle with prowess, when the end is only the prelude to the beginning. Dallas' finest musician--its smartest, its most savvy and dexterous, its most benevolent and profound player--doesn't make records anymore. He goes on journeys.
To refer to the forthcoming Earl Harvin Trio at the Gypsy Tea Room, to be released at the beginning of May on Leaning House Records, as Harvin's third record as bandleader somehow diminishes its results. The two-disc collection--all 137 minutes of it, by God, spread over a mere nine tracks--sounds as though it were made by a different band, even though keyboardist Dave Palmer and bassist Fred Hamilton once more appear. It's a sprawling, exhilarating, dazzling, jocular, and utterly out record--"free jazz," but only because what the hell else do you call it? A dozen listens later, the record still resists classification. It's not the easiest thing to get inside of, not the most inviting of Harvin and his band's trio of releases, but that's because it's the most challenging, the most provocative, the most in-your-face daring even when it calms to a whisper and slows to a crawl. Or when it exhibits a rare moment of humor, breaking the accumulated tension that throbs and pulses beneath Palmer's organ-playing (which often sounds like fuzzed-out guitar) and Hamilton's heart-attack bass. And especially when it lets fly, breaks free of the earth's gravity and soars to a place jazz hasn't visited since the early 1970s--when old-timers began lamenting the death of their music.
Not long into the 24-plus minutes of "What I Want to Do to You" (originally the bop lead-off track on Strange Happy, rendered unrecognizable in its current incarnation), Palmer suddenly, inexplicably, breaks into a few bars of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame." But it's a momentary respite: Palmer cuts loose again, absconds deep into the final funk frontier while Harvin keeps him grounded, laying down a beat like landing lights. Finally, the track dissolves into ambient beats and trance-like rhythms, until you half expect Tricky to come out from behind the curtains and gravel-growl over the track. Every song on the new record's like this, sort of: intimate and whispered one second, consuming and enormous the next. This ain't just a record; it's a lifestyle.