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Now Hear This

Reviews of new releases by Congotronics 2, Tom Petty, Bruce Hornsby, The Coup and local group Thompson D'earth Band.


Congotronics 2 "Buzz 'n' Rumble from the Urb 'n' Jungle" (Crammed Discs)

Nothing will prepare you for the jarring listening experience contained on this compilation of electronic groups from the suburbs of Kinshasa, Congo. From a man who has spent literally thousands of hours listening to every kind of music, I can safely say that I've never heard anything quite like it. Maybe that's why I can't stop listening.

The work of these six electro-traditional bands from Kinshasa is rooted solely in the traditional trance music of their native land. And yet, to the uninitiated, one could assume these groups were deeply influenced by European techno-music or the psychedelic extremes of Jimi Hendrix.

Using conventional indigenous instruments (like thumb piano, percussion), the groups throw traditional American notions of African music to the wind with homemade electronics, megaphones and amplifiers (some made from telephone wires wrapped around crushed car alternator magnets) that saturate the large ensemble playing with distortion. Each track is a swirling, disorienting barrage of trance-inducing rhythm.

Also included is a 41-minute DVD, which greatly humanizes the brashness of the audio experience. Filmed on location, it's a fascinating look into a world that few ever get to experience firsthand. If you're looking to tweak your ears (and eyes) in fresh new ways, this is a must-have release. ***** — Chris Bopst

Bruce Hornsby "Intersections: 1985-2005" (RCA/Legacy)

I admit Bruce Hornsby's work sometimes sounds dangerously close to light, New Agey jazz with its flowery, classical-influenced runs flittering through the pop breeze — a sort of musical Mylanta. Still, Williamsburg's most famous export has proven a valued collaborator with a wide range of artists from the Grateful Dead and Chaka Khan to Branford Marsalis and Ornette Coleman — which may be the most interesting thing about this definitive, four-CD box set.

Musically, Hornsby seems comfortable in numerous genres and open to exploration. Disc one contains his VH1-friendly radio hits; disc two is a more meditative affair with solo piano, tribute records and soundtrack material; discs three and four (both titled "By Request") are the most consistent, with unreleased live fan favorites that illustrate Hornsby's solid improvisational skills.

There's also a DVD with notable performances, including a weepy cover of John Lennon's "Imagine" for President Clinton and a dead-on version of "Comfortably Numb" with Roger Waters. Everything comes lovingly packaged with a humorous booklet containing good and bad press reviews and assorted memorabilia.

For all his milky smoothness, it's easy to overlook the songwriting. At times, the socially conscious Hornsby comes close to doing for Virginia what Springsteen did for Jersey — and he may some day still. *** — B.B.

Bruce Hornsby plays the Charlottesville Pavilion Tuesday, Aug. 22. Tickets cost $17 to $47 dollars, call 877-CPAV-TIX.

The Coup "Pick a Bigger Weapon" (Epitaph)

If Bobby Seale and Huey Newton had started a hip-hop group instead of forming the Black Panthers, it would have sounded like The Coup.

On their second release, the Bay Area duo (Boots Riley & Pam the Funkstress) make their intentions of overthrowing the government — and partying righteously while they're doing it — clear to any dance floor that will have them. This is an unflinching musical manifesto of socialist intent.

From the Bernie Worrell-inspired '70s funk of "Laugh, Love, F*ck" to the sublime soul number, "Baby Let's Have A Baby Before Bush Do Something Crazy," the Coup make unapologetically political music that has the good sense to spread its message by first moving your feet. You may not agree with the group's militant pose, but you'll have one hell of have a time trying to resist its enticing beats. "Pick A Bigger Weapon" is the perfect summer party CD to scare your conservative friends — though they might be too busy dancing to notice. **** — C.B.

Thompson D'earth Band "When the Serpent Flies" (Cosmology)

The lineup of the Charlottesville-based Thompson D'earth Band is something of a moving target, a shrink-swell swarm of the area's best musicians orbiting the axis of the married principals. Singer Dawn Thompson with trumpeter/husband John D'earth have been playing together since the '70s, relocating from New York City because of area response to their band "Cosmology." Their Thursday-night residence at Miller's in Charlottesville, featuring anything from a quartet to a big band, is an area institution.

The latest CD captures the band's established strengths. D'earth's brightly burnished lines and Thompson's elliptical, evocative lyrics share a poetically balanced asymmetry. The band — bassist Pete Spaar, guitarist Jamal Millner, drummer Brian Caputo and saxophonist J.C. Kuhl — provide sympathetic support and shine in their solos. Pianist Daniel Clarke is the wild card; his tumbling lines and joyous clusters make the music sound both like a classic album of the late '60s and blinkingly new. *** — Peter McElhinney

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