(Kranky [CD]/Audraglint [LP])

The Portland experimenters create funk for nerds and post-rock that goes beyond background music.

Is it instrumental, improvised twiddling that lacks the proficiency and the tradition of jazz but is too tame and intricate for rock? Could it be another CD to be filed and forgotten with all those other "post-rock" (to use that ridiculous term) bands like Tortoise and I-forget-who-else? Fontanelle's music is too abstract to get a handle on--neither bad enough to ridicule nor powerful enough to arouse passions nor weird enough to produce a cult following. Fontanelle's second disc, F, offers more of the same but proves more focused than the group's self-titled debut--a quality that allows this album to transcend mere background music.

"Fulcrum" starts off the album with spacy bleeps before dropping into a funk groove. Funk music, perhaps, but funk music without sweat, bred in a lab in a cellar, to be listened to by some geek alone in a monitor-lit bedroom. "Slow January" begins as an atmospheric piece with a melancholy piano riff, then sneaks up on the listener near the end as it picks up momentum on a locked groove. The repetitive "Floor Tile" offers up some Terry Riley-styled minimalism, with more dynamics than a similar track, "Niagara," from the first album. The disc closes with the intriguing "Walking with Mercer," which opens with delicate piano notes interspersed with contrasting dissonant synth growls, then develops and changes gradually, becoming a bit crazed as it dissolves into chirping noises and clicks. The rest is all good, from the bubbly bass synth of "Return Envelope" to the distorted sustained guitar on "Charm and Strange" to the upbeat "Corrective Lenses." (RS)

Fontanelle plays Saturday at the Blackbird, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-9949. 9 pm. $6. Mome Raths and Nice Nice also perform.


This ain't no wanky one-off solo project.

Local bass boy Crittenden is a compatriot of Glen Moore, Ralph Towner and Paul McCandless--a trio better known as the band Oregon--and his own jazz leanings fall squarely in the hybrid court the group helped pioneer. The compositions on his self-released debut disc work in the same general vein. Yet the nine pieces are saved from any saccharine New Age sentimentality by the cohesive and combative rapport Crittenden develops with pianist Art Lande, McCandless on soprano sax and oboe, and drummer Chris Lee. Rather than sounding like hired guns thrown together for a one-off studio session, these guys fuse into a real band, sparring freely.

McCandless makes the most of his four tracks, unfurling his improvisations on Crittenden's sparse melodies like spools of wind-blown ribbon. Lande's playing sounds more relaxed and less emotionally cool than usual. An electric-arco bass duet between the leader and Moore is surprisingly brooding, with the latter's bowed drone adding richness to Crittenden's singing notes. And once again, Nancy King turns another standard on its head with her unique duet with the bassist on "Body and Soul." There aren't many singers who could pull off such vocal juju. With Crittenden hugging closely to King's confident lead, any additional sound would be superfluous. (BS)

Of related interest: Oregon, without Crittenden, plays Friday and Saturday at Artichoke Music's Backgate Stage, 3130 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 232-8845. 8 pm both nights. $50.


The Buena Vista bassist cuts loose with a--gasp!--experimental dance album

Are you looking for perfect summer evening music? The kind that allows you to unwind, but also makes you want to bust the rust off your rear bumper? Enter Cachaito Lopez, bass-thumper supreme, king of the deep swing. Yeah, the whole Cuban music craze is a bit passé in these post-Buena Vista times, but Cachaito's crew is hellbent on keeping it relevant. Though this son of a vast family of legendary bassists lent his infallible foundation to the Social Club's elderly all-star project of a few years ago, this disc sounds more in tune with downtown NYC tweakers than Havana's geezer superstars. This gang of island cats runs with a sound something like Marc Ribot's Prosthetic Cubanos remixed by King Tubby.

Beginning with a core of plucked upright bass and a four-man percussion unit, we are treated to a vast assortment of guest players, including James Brown tenor blaster Pee Wee Ellis, Afro-jazzer Hugh Masekela and electric six-string slinger Manuel Galban, who shines. The formula may be simple--heavy blues bass groove à la Charles Mingus, loads of polyrhythmic bongo action, dubwise keyboard punctuation and a roomful of hombres jamming--but the effect is something else entirely. Here is music informed by the past yet channeling the future--the sound of play, transcending cliché, equally committed to sonic exploration as old-fashioned cha cha cha.

Lopez also knows a thing or two about melody, the kind that makes the heart yearn with nostalgia whenever the string section bows harmonic short-stop, doubling up on a minor key riff or rhythmic two-step. Likewise, reeds and brass punch out the intermittent soul cry in time to primordial bass bump. So throw a shark on the grill, spray some WD-40 on the knees, and give Cachaito a spin for a party that will last 'til the midnight hour. (DM)

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