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Pete Carney: Orange Alert

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Chicago saxophonist Pete Carney tackles some weighty subject matter—9/11 and its aftermath in Iraq, contemporary American life and its constant background of fear and clamor—on Orange Alert. On the tune "Night Vision Carney layers multitracked tenors over shimmering electric piano and a hypnotic, trebley cymbal loop, and the result's an edgy, melancholy gem of acid jazz.

That's all the good news.

Carney's album is very much a studio creation, urban and contemporary—self-consciously so. Carney's saxophones and flute, Jim Donovan's trumpet, and Eddie Kim's and Gary Tu's guitars float and waft alongside keyboard patches and DJ DVS's turntable work, all over static, repetitive drum loops. At times the music—especially whenever Donovan's filtered trumpet licks appear—evokes Miles Davis' Tutu or Amandla albums, which strove mightily to sound cutting edge and state-of-the-recording-art, and as a result sound dated today.

Unfortunately, Carney's album sounds dated now. There's not a synth tone or turntable scratch that sounds novel or original on Orange Alert. Everything sounds like a factory preset: the "urban jazz groove setting. And then there are the drum loops. They're often simply terrible: "8:00 Clock Hustle's breakbeat is painfully familiar and never changes or recedes for the song's duration. The hip-hop beats of "What You Waitin' For? are stupefyingly tired: again one pictures the "rap preset on a drum machine. Speaking of hip-hop, "Check the Conspiracy has some stilted, unflowing rapping on the subject of the so-called war on terrorism and its dubious motivations: interesting subject matter, poor execution—even if the number is enlivened by a sampled, scratched Gene Wilder from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

Originality and novelty wouldn't be such a concern if the music wasn't so determined to be modern. For good or ill, hip-hop and contemporary R&B are musical genres obsessed with freshness: most two-year-old rap albums, for example, sound miserably stale. For that matter, so do many acid jazz albums of a similar vintage. Carney's material's not about harmonic progression and it's not about real-time interplay. It's about minimalist groove and texture. Therefore its textures need to be fascinating. They are not.

"Music, writes Carney in the album's liner notes, "is supposed to be about something. Perhaps so; but even if "Baghdad Christmas, say, is about "spending the holidays in a war zone, it's also about its notes, its timbres, its instrumentation. In fact, that is a song's true essence and what makes a tune good—or bad. Jazz music and its cousins hip-hop and R&B can blend extremely fruitfully: just throw on a Madlib CD for the proof. The recording studio is a place where you can do anything; the only limit is one's imagination. Orange Alert is a very limited album.

Track Listing: 1. 8:00 Clock Hustle 2. Orange Alert #27 3. Baghdad Christmas 4. Millennium Sunrise 5. Devastating 6. Check the Conspiracy 7. What You Waitin' For? 8. The Red Phone 9. Night Vision 10. Missing 11. Tomorrow Will Be Better Than Today

Personnel: Pete Carney: tenor & alto saxes, flute, trumpet (#3), keyboards, loops; DJ DVS: turntables; Damian Rozell, Charlie Hunt: vocals; Jim Donovan: trumpet; Eddie Kim: guitar (#7,8); Gary Tu: guitar (#1,2,9); Sean Jelinek: drums; Rachel Shaftman: electric piano (#1)

Title: Orange Alert | Year Released: 2005


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