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WORLD MUSIC REVIEW

DJs bring unique virtuosity to Bowl

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist kick off World Festival with deft techniques and video.

June 26, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

Veteran Brazilian singer-songwriter Carlinhos Brown and the Sierra Leone Refugee All Stars were the most compelling live performers in Sunday's opening event of KCRW's World Festival at the Hollywood Bowl. "Live," that is, if one identifies "performers" as those who play instruments and/or sing.

Why the distinction? Because the show was headlined by the musical collage team of DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist. Although neither played a musical instrument, as such, or proffered a vocal, their busy manipulation of turntables and sound equipment represented a kind of fascinating virtuosity in its own right.

Their extended work, "Brain Placement / 7 Inches of Fury," was a fascinating -- if uneven -- musical collage, completely generated by the two DJs' adroit handling of seven-inch, 45-rpm vinyl discs. After a brief video explanation of the mechanical processes by which the music was produced, the duo kicked off an hourlong compilation (with accompanying video) embracing clips from classic films ("Casablanca") and songs (the Flamingos' "I Only Have Eyes for You"), footage of classic cars from the '60s, color displays from onstage monitors and strobe-light flashes around the rim of the Bowl.

It was at its best when the duo displayed quick-handed disc-controlling techniques and imaginative choice of offbeat material -- far less intriguing when the flow of songs verged toward repetitive beats of dance-party DJ performance.

What did it have to do with world music? Aside from a few video shots of carnival celebrations, not much.

The opening set by the All Stars displayed the growing professional confidence of the ensemble, which came together a decade ago in the camps of Guinea. Initially performing on battered guitars with rusted amplifiers, they've taken a remarkable musical odyssey that was the subject of an award-winning documentary. The group has progressed from a social and political entity to an authentically entertaining ensemble. Their performance Sunday started slowly, but began to generate energy as they unrolled the Afro-reggae rhythms at the heart of their style, climaxing with a high-spirited rendering of the title track from their CD, "Living Like a Refugee."

Brown decided almost immediately to engage the Bowl audience directly, and spent a good portion of his set roving through the aisles, prancing across the semicircular platform that arches through the Garden boxes, and calling for sing-a-long responses from his enthusiastic listeners.

A hit-maker since the mid-'80s, he included several of his high-profile tunes -- "Ja Sei Namorar" and "Maria Caipirinha" among them. The essence of Brown's music has always traced directly to the communal creativity of his roots in Brazil's favelas (urban slums) and even now -- leading a well-rehearsed, musically adroit 11-piece ensemble -- he performed with an irresistibly interactive, share-theexperience musical togetherness.

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