January 5 - 11
Those of us who know that hiphop and basketball are the best things our culture has going for it since the Death of Film (which, by the way, New York Press' Godfrey Cheshire will be discussing at MOMA on Tuesday, 1/11, 6 p.m., 11 W. 53rd St., betw. 5th & 6th Aves., 708-9480) are used to sifting through this kind of horseshit to get at the last shards of American urban craft. Things will get better in later weeks, starting with the Knicks' back-to-back against Charlotte on the 14th (there, 7:30 p.m.) and 15th (here, 8 p.m., both on MSG). Their first meeting this season was the most exciting East Coast game since the NBA outlawed defense. Later this month will come MC Paul Barman's debut EP It's Very Stimulating. (1/18, on Brooklyn indie WordSound.) Produced by Prince Paul, this Jewish rapper from Jersey is the first to wholly liberate white hiphop from minstrelsy. He rhymes in a voice no less true to his soul than that of the great Ghostface Killah, whose long-delayed second album Supreme Clientele will finally come out on the last Tuesday of the month. (1/25, on Epic.) The Sunday after that, the NBA's most electrifying team, the Sacramento Kings, visit the Garden. (1/30, 9 p.m., on NBC.) I hope someone warns those guys about New York's dodgy clubs, undercovers and spot checks?they've got a few priors.
In the meantime there's an opportunity to recycle your Christmas tree. Brooklyn residents can take theirs to Prospect Park on Saturday. (1/8, 10 a.m.-3 p.m., at the 3rd St., 9th St., Bartel-Pritchard Circle, Park Circle, Wollman Rink and Grand Army Plaza entrances, 718-965-8999 for info.) Don't forget to remove all decorations and tinsel. And if you want wood chips to take home for your own personal weed control, go to the 3rd St. spot (at Prospect Pk. W.) and bring a bag.
Speaking of shredding, Ace Frehley of Kiss will be among the stars in attendance at Sunday's New York Custom Guitar Show and Auction. It's everything you always wanted in a guitar show, and Les (Paul), and yet Les(lie West of Mountain)! Host Sam Ash Music promises "the world's largest collection of custom and vintage guitars," plus charity auctions of axes signed by Clapton, Mellencamp, Aerosmith, etc., product clinics and appraisals. From 20s Gibsons and Fenders to the instrument that brought us "R.O.C.K. in the U.S.A."?could you ask for a better illustration of the death of American craft? (1/9, noon-7:30, at Hammerstein Ballroom, 311 W. 34th St., betw. 8th & 9th Aves., 719-2625, $10, kids under 12 free.)
Jazz critics always write about bebop as the form's re-immersion in issues of substance. To me the revolutionary moment was 20s blues and ragtime. I'd heard it analogized that "bebop was to swing as punk was to classic rock" so many times I half-expected my holiday gift The Savoy Story, Volume One: Jazz to kick off with Miles and Bird declaring 1945 "another year with nothin' to do." Maybe this excellent new three-disc set is the wrong tool for the job of repping bebop, but to my ears it sounds like the Savoy crew were more akin to progressive rock. They were cerebral and sophisticated, furthering the black-arts cause through virtuosity that would not be bargained down by the mainstream?right? Yet, next to crossovering Louis Armstrong?who can be heard at his jivin' corniest on the wonderful new collection Louis Armstrong Love Songs?the bebop guys sound almost joyless.
This is more or less the point Puffy was making when he saddled righteous rappers with the term "hater." As much as real hiphop heads hate Puffy, few were willing to wear his epithet as a badge of courage. Case in point is the brilliant Mos Def, who declared, "I have the right to hate whoever I want," a couple of years before releasing the most bebop-revering, rock-repudiating rap album of the decade, Black on Both Sides. It's left to no-names to concoct the fragile mix of emotions?the love/hate that fuels slam dunks and slamming rhythms?that make the difference between high-tech propaganda and true craft.
Not on many year-end lists are my hiphop picks of the week: M.F. Doom's Operation: Doomsday and U-God's Golden Arms Redemption. The former is the first full-length album released by DJ Bobbito's record label, Fondle 'Em?it compiles a few previously released 12-inches with new material from the rapper formerly known as Zev-Love X of KMD. I'd put Doomsday in the same class as Scaramanga's Seven Eyes, Seven Horns and Godfather Don's Diabolique; it's another low-budget document of an unsung, unhinged and unleashed New York hiphop talent. Doom uses a lot of jazz samples, warping them all hideously. He's like Kool Keith and Wu-Tang the way he uses humor to render his hate buoyant. "Everybody wrote they own rhymes & did they own cuts," Doom writes in his liner notes. He even did his own, copyright-infringing cover illustration. Check this guy out.
The U-God album is a conundrum in progress. The guy's voice is like the bassline from a blaxploitation theme, and his lyrics ("Raw I'ma give it to ya/With no trivia/Real like cocaine/Straight from Bolivia," being his most quoted example) hardly dilute the effect. The music of every song on Redemption undermines U-God's vocal momentum, though. The fact that RZA was executive producer strongly indicates that all these unrelentingly heavy, steroidally pumped minor-key stabs and drones weren't matched with U-God's punk-rock rhymes by accident. Imagine if Bad Brains had found a way to play their reggae and their hardcore at the same time. Golden Arms Redemption is an amazing album on the strength of its weirdness alone.
Odd that to study cutting-edge urban culture this week you have to stay home with your stereo, while scholars of the historic 20th-century color and culture line can go out and hear the music of its negotiation performed live. Rap-hater Wynton Marsalis and his Septet are at the Village Vanguard through Sunday (1/3-1/9, 178 7th Ave. S. at 11th St., 255-4037, $30), and Friday brings William Parker and Matthew Shipp to Mercury Lounge. (1/7, 217 E. Houston St., betw. Ludlow & Essex Sts., 260-4700, $12.) On Saturday night Thurston Moore does his free-jazz thing with Susie Ibarra at "New Years Noise" at the Knitting Factory, also featuring Wharton Tiers Ensemble and Tower Recordings. (1/8, 74 Leonard St., betw. Church St. & B'way, 219-3055, $10.) And the unhatable Louis Armstrong will be featured at Lincoln Center's "Reel to Real" film screening Sunday, with rarely seen clips and a Satchmo tribute by the Gully Low Jazz Band. (1/9, 11:30 a.m. & 2 p.m., at the Walter Reade Theater, 165 W. 65th St. at B'way, 875-5370, $12, $6 kids under 16.)
Last and least, there's Sunday night's "DateBait" singles event at the 92nd St. Y. Billed as "The Embarrassment-Free Recipe for Dating in the No-Nonsense 90s [sic]," it's an elaborate mixer designed to take both the risk of rejection and actual rejection out of the courtship equation. It's easy to see this as yet another case of technology replacing craft?asking someone out without imminent danger is like writing a song that won't offend anyone's ears or dunking a basketball so as to not shame the other team. Then again, maybe the only thing worse than making money off of modern loneliness is mocking it. So with a nod to innocent Puffy, I'll refrain from hating and wish everyone at DateBait a Louis Armstrong-tootin' happy slide into Valentine's Day 2000. (1/9, 6:30-9:30 p.m., 1395 Lexington Ave. at 92nd St., 996-1100, $30.)