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RECORD RACK

All's Weill

November 17, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN

"LOST IN THE STARS--THE MUSIC OF KURT WEILL." Various artists. A&M. This is not just another Weill album. Producer Hal Willner wanted to prove that Weill's great songs--the Broadway ones even more than the Berlin ones--deserve to be unstuck from their usual trappings so that we can really hear them again. So he assigned a group of them to artists whom one wouldn't associate with Weill in a million years, assuming one had heard of them at all.

Lou Reed makes "September Song" as flat as a terminal patient's brain-scan. Ralph Shuckett's arrangement of the "Alabama Song" combines a clattering street band and an old radio that still brings in 1928 (Richard Butler and Ellen Shipley did the vocal). The Armadillo String Quartet adds cobwebs to the "Youkali Tango," a depraved taxi-dance from Weill's Paris years.

John Zorn smashes "The Little Lieutenant of the Loving God" (from "Happy End") into musique concrete , with a Dada vocal by Luli Shioi. Sting does "Mack the Knife." Tom Waits does "What Keeps Mankind Alive." Marianne Faithfull does "The Ballad of the Soldier's Wife."

All these succeed in putting the danger back in Weill's music, making him sound dark, kinky and punk. For most of these songs it's absolutely appropriate. But Weill's lyrical impulse is also celebrated, as in Carla Bley's immaculate arrangement of "Lost in the Stars," featuring Phil Woods on alto sax, and Sharon Freeman's ingenious arrangement of "Speak Low," featuring Charlie Haden on string bass. One sees here that the concept album isn't intrinsically asinine, given a real concept.

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