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October 11, 1991 - Image 9

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The Michigan Daily, 1991-10-11

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The Michigan Daily- Friday, October 11, 1991 - Page 9

JoAnne Brackeen is a jazz

composer with style,


by Josh Mitnick

*Looking good is quite important for the members of Urge Overkill, often criticized for being pretty boys.
Sul men reinvent rock
Hard rockin' Urge Overkill definitely ain't the
Commitments, but can fame be far behind?

,y Skot Beal
In the '80s, it seemed like a lot of
really stagnant things were drag-
ging music down - everything
from Madonna to death metal. But
in the '90s, it seems like rock is fi-
nally becoming fun to listen to
again. I asked King Roeser, the
singer/bassist for Urge Overkill,
about this trend.
"You look at Public Enemy's
new record or Metallica's new
record," he says. "I mean, they're re-
ally starting to put out some of
their best stuff now. And I think
th4t trend will continue for a long
time to come, especially in the
nineties. And I think both of those
musical bodies will probably fuse
together, which is important be-
*capse it's like rock reinventing it-
self once again."
In light of this statement, Urge
Overkill is truly a band for the '90s.
On their new album, T h e
Supersonic Storybook, the band
proves that they are one of the major
vehicles through which rock is cur-
rently reinventing itself. They play
listener-friendly, hard-rockin' gui-
ita pop. Now, sure, that sounds like
what a lot of bands play now, right?
But these guys are different, because
their songs are just dripping with
soul. Maybe that's because of the
heavy influences of James Brown,
Funkadelic and Parliament, with the
latter band being the source of Urge
Overkill's name.
"We're very much a rock band
trying to funk as much as they were
a funk band trying to rock," Roeser
explains. "We're very influenced by
George Clinton and James Brown.
We're not really influenced by any
so-called white thrash funk band at
Urge Overkill has quite a bit in
common with the Seattle/Sub Pop
scene. Although they are currently

signed to Touch & Go records, they
have done a single on Sub Pop. Also,
they're now touring with
Mudhoney, a current Sub Pop band,
and Nirvana, a former Sub Pop band.
"They made loud guitar rock fash-
ionable again," says Roeser of the
label, "and that's certainly what
we're all about as well."
Fashion, indeed, is another im-
portant aspect of Urge Overkill
'You look at Public
Enemy's new record
or Metallica's new
record... I mean,
they're really starting
to put out some of
their best stuff now.
And I think that trend
will continue for a
long time to come,
especially in the
-King Roeser
Urge Overkill
that must be mentioned. You'll
never see a member of this band
wearing a T-shirt and jeans. When
they play live, the guys wear match-
ing velvet suits, complete with
hefty gold medallions bearing their
logo, the Union 76 sign.
The suits began as sort of joke
and attention-getter, but now, look-
ing good is as high a priority for the
band as sounding good. "There's al-
ways been a small circle of people
who have regarded show biz and
flashiness/schmaltziness in private
quarters as sort of a running gag, but
with very real significance," says
Well, it's arguable that the suits
themselves attracted a lot of the at-
tention that Urge Overkill has re-
ceived in the music press thus far,

and that's very real significance in-
deed, considering that across the
country, the band has been near the
top of college radio charts along
with R.E.M. and Dinosaur Jr. for
quite some time.
The Supersonic Storybook is by
no means Urge Overkill's only al-
bum, or even their only good album.
Last year's Americruiser was also
highly successful, even attracting
attention from MTV. The record
has a much harder, faster edge to it,
and has even been compared to a
punk rock version of Eliminator.
However, the band has evolved since
then to its more pop-oriented pre-
sent sound.
Roeser explains the importance
of exploring new musical territory
and continually striving for im-
provement. "It's the bands that
don't progress, who just stay in one
place forever and ever, that just take
up space and bore everybody with
their singular vision of self-star-
dom," he says. "It's a good band's
responsibility to challenge itself
and its audience."
Perhaps it's their sense of style,
their incredible amount of soul or
their pop sensibility, but after lis-
tening to an Urge Overkill record-
ing, you can expect to feel really
positive. And what about their live
shows? "An Urge Overkill show is
very musical and very visual,"
Roeser explains. "There's a certain
degree of aesthetical to it. At times,
it's quite sloppy, noisy and uncon-
trollable, and at times it's quite
conventional and quite normal and
quite likable. I mean, we put on our
clothing, we plug in and we play."
NIRVANA tonight at St. Andrew's
Hall. This is an all-ages show, and
tickets are $8.50 in advance at
TicketMaster (p.e.s.c.). Doors
open at 7p.m.

The jazz spotlight of today is fix-
ated on young upstarts of the Mar-
salis genre whose music recalls the
styles of a older generation of leg-
endary performers like Ellington,
Bird, Monk and Coltrane.
Despite all of the media saliva-
tion, 53-year-old pianist JoAnne
Brackeen continues to play by her
own rules of jazz composition. In
fact, Brackeen argues that her em-
phasis on innovation and creativity
makes her a couple of generations
younger as a musician.
"I'm not an older musician. My
music is younger than almost any of
these people, in the fact that it has a
vitality that their music doesn't
have," she says. "My music is not
that of older musicians. In fact, it is
the younger ones who want to play
Brackeen adds that she can't in-
vite people her own age to play with
her because they are not accustomed
to her compositions. "I don't hear
music in the age that I was born."
Nowhere is this more evident
than on her latest release, Breath of
Brazil. The album features unique
Latin rhythms and harmonies and fu-
riously played piano solos. Bra-
ckeen's quartet combines traditional
instruments with an array of per-
cussive effects to create an exotic
musical atmosphere that is a far cry
from traditional swing and be-bop ar-
rangements. Those accustomed to
the standards might be prone to write
Brackeen off as background music.
Brackeen says she sees no harm
in the current jazz trend toward pay-
ing tribute to the music's history -
her performances often include a
standard or two - but at the same
time, she continues, musicians need
to innovate on their own.
"I do hope that they will go ahead
with their own creativity, assuming
they have that," Brackeen says of
contemporary rising jazz artists.
"Some of them do and some of them
don't. Some of the ones being pub-
licized very highly as being greats
are everything but that."
Interestingly, Brackeen doesn't
mention any particular musicians as
influences on her composition and
performance. Instead, she says she is
affected by everything she hears.
"There is always some strong point
of anybody's playing that you can
hear. Even if you dislike it there's

there's always some kind of point in
it," 'she says.
In addition to her current role as
band leader and composer, Brackeen
has been a groundbreaker ina music
form almost entirely dominated by
male performers. Her three-year stint
with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers
marked the first time a woman had
performed with a jazz ensemble of
such acclaim.
"No women had ever integrated in
jazz groups at that level of expres-
sion," she says. "They were the best
jobs you could get and there had
never been any women in those
Brackeen says she was well re-
ceived by audiences and musicians
playing as a side person with the

likes of Blakey and Stan Getz, but
leading a band was a different story.
"When it came time to leave the
band, the business people became
very afraid," she explains.
Finding work as a woman band
leader who wasn't a vocalist was an-
other barrier against Brackeen.
"At first, I wondered why I was-
n't working that much. Clubs were
willing to book women as a side-
man, but not as a leader. It simply
wasn't done," she says. "I have to
put five to ten time more effort into
it than a male."
Brackeen explains that subtle
discrimination still exists in the mu-
sic industry, as executives attempt to
create an image unrelated to music.
See BRACKEEN, Page 11

Groundbreaking jazz artist'JoAnne Brackeen is a contemporary
innovator with strong roots in the past.




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