The CD opens with the title track, a dueling melody number in which Lovano soars through a run of notes with his full, breathy tone while Rubalcaba dances the harmony on the keys. The pianist's droning bass notes provide syncopated accompaniment for his sizzling right-handed jogs. The airy "How Deep Is the Ocean" takes a softer, more lyrical approach, Lovano enchanting the saxophone with a subtler and breathier tone.

"Boss Town" starts with Rubalcaba's chords marching behind Lovano's circular melody. It takes the tempo down a peg while Lovano, proving himself a bit of a multi-instrumentalist, chimes in on tuned gongs. (The sax player's percussion, which appears in a few places on Flying Colors, is the only thing that weakens the CD. It's tolerable but seemingly arbitrary and adds little to the proceedings.) Nevertheless the moment is quickly forgotten as Rubalcaba comes back blazing, hammering out bass chords while his right hand cascades down the keys.

The CD is filled with such highlights. Rubalcaba burns through portions of "Mr. Hyde" as if he were running from Castro, and the musicians weave a solid tapestry on the Tadd Dameron standard "Hot House." Lovano and Rubalcaba prove with Flying Colors that they not only excel at their respective instruments but can potentially redefine the manner in which instruments interact.

-- Larry Getlen

Gastr del Sol
(Drag City)

Throughout the '80s David Grubbs spent his time playing guitar and singing in gnarly little Midwestern punk bands with names like Squirrel Bait, Bitch Magnet, Slint, and Bastro. Those groups became college-rock favorites but eventually folded. In the early '90s, Grubbs -- who had always been a latent avant-gardist -- formed a loose "band" with the inscrutable name of Gastr del Sol. Grubbs probably lost most of his previous audience: His new compositions tend to be thoughtful piano studies and intricate tone poems for guitar. When Grubbs began collaborating in 1994 with Jim O'Rourke, a studio engineer and tape manipulator, Gastr del Sol's sound took on an added (and decidedly odd) dimension.

Camofleur, the band's third full-length album, walks a fine line between experimental noodling and clearly realized innovation, often within a single song. The opening track, "The Seasons Reverse," is a lightly galloping pop song with jazzy guitar, a nice horn solo, and a little steel drum thrown in for good measure. In his appealingly bland voice, Grubb sings a sort of poetic essay: "The seasons reshuffle/At a span of a year and a half/September reverses and the equinoxes flip." The last two minutes of the song, however, dwindle into a moody, unfinished guitar sketch accompanied by the faint sound of distant firecrackers. The track ends with several seconds' worth of a barely audible woman's voice.

"The Seasons Reverse" is not just a cerebral sound-experiment; it's a love song. Surprisingly, it works. There's joy in the music's rapid pace but regret in the lyrics: "They shuffle because it's been more than two years/ First seeing you in a snow bank/Then a sweater/Then a swelter." The song speeds by, slows down, then fades away, leaving nothing but a few sounds and words that are as fuzzy as old memories.

Not all of Gastr del Sol's songs require this much interpretive effort. "Each Dream Is an Example" is a lovely piano-and-horns piece à la Pet Sounds; "Mouth Canyon" recalls Neil Young's early, folky material; "Blues Subtitled No Sense of Wonder" is, despite its tricky title (and a few moments of intrusive tape noise), a very nice mood piece featuring Grubb's delicate piano accompanied by an organ and a cornet.

Grubbs has a better facility with sound than words: Lyrics such as "Summing up/Tenderness/Air mattress" are a little too abstract for their own good. The instrumental passages are what stand out here: tentative pianos, elaborate guitar lines, processed lengths of tape, or even all of the above. With punk rock behind him and the freedom to do what he pleases before him, Grubbs is leading Gastr del Sol towards his unique personal vision.

-- Rafer Guzman

Mary Lou Lord
Got No Shadow

During the chorus of "His Lamest Flame," this CD's bouncy opening track, Mary Lou Lord warbles a carefree "na na na na na" over a simple descending melody. It's a moment of light, sugary joy, a perfect ode to '60s-style pop. The flip side of that track is Lord's cover of Freedy Johnston's wistful ballad "The Lucky One." "Standing in the last night/Artificial daylight/I know I am the lucky one," Lord sighs. No "na na na" going on there.

Lord's brand of late '90s folk-rock draws from only the best influences, and they're clearly listed in her liner notes. Lord gives her gushiest thank-you to Shawn Colvin ("Your music inspired me to begin this journey..."), whose spirit seems to shine through these songs like sunlight through gauze. But it's Nick Saloman, of the British pop group the Bevis Frond, who contributes the most here: He wrote four songs, cowrote three, and plays guitar on every song except one. Then there's Lord's friend Elliott Smith, an indie folk favorite (and Oscar nominee for his contribution to the Good Will Hunting soundtrack) who takes over guitar duties on the breezy blues song "Shake Sugaree." Nels Cline, of the Geraldine Fibbers, offers his guitar services on a few songs; Roger McGuinn (yep, from the Byrds) strums a twelve-string on the catchy "Lights Are Changing." Colvin even sings background vocals on "Subway," an autobiographical song about Lord's years of busking for the commuter crowd.

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