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Phoenix sets the scene for summer

Noticing that "It's Never Been Like That," the new disc from France's Phoenix -- on the almost always batting 1.000 Astralwerks Records -- has a song called "Consolation Prizes" makes me think wistfully of the Orange Juice song of a similar name and I figure that's a good sign.

I liked the band's previous discs and was sorry to have missed their Onopa gig a while back, but nothing prepared me for how much I'd like this one, their third.

The aforementioned "Consolation Prizes" sounds EXACTLY like Josh Rouse and that can only be a good thing. Thomas Mars sings just like Rouse on this one and it has the same, wind in your hair summery sound.

The same is true of "Long Distance Call." In fact, the entire 10-disc is upbeat, breezy, poppy and melodic and there's nary a low point, making this that rare CD that you can just pop in and let it repeat again and again. (I'll save my rant on the loss of focus during the CD era for another time.)

Fresh, unadorned, straightforward and striking ... And how often can you say that?

Note: Galli-phobes don't have to worry, either. Sung entirely in English and with musical influences that are more American and British than French, there's nothing here to even clue one in that the band is from France. (And anyway, we shouldn't hate the French; without their help at the beginning we might not even have a country.)

Kahn chronicles Impulse!

Now that his third book, "The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records," has been published, I'm sure of one thing about Ashley Kahn. He, along with food writer Korby Kummer, would certainly be on my dinner party invite list if I had their addresses.

Kahn, who is often heard on NPR, is the author of books about the making of John Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" LP and Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue." His new volume is an eclectic portrait of one of the most eclectic labels in jazz history, Creed Taylor's Impulse!.

Eclectic is the best word to describe a label that released, side by side, the absolutely free form (Coltrane's "Ascension," for example), alongside accessible soul jazz (think organist Shirley Scott), straight ahead hard bop (Art Blakey and his Jazz Messengers), the orchestral jazz hybrids of Oliver Nelson and the retro-tastic mid-'60s work of the great Earl Hines. Somehow, even Hines' work feels cutting edge 40 years on.

In fact, it's almost hard to imagine that the label that issued some of the most challenging and engaging jazz records ever was launched by a top 10 pop hit by Ray Charles.

With such a subject, the savvy Kahn was smart enough to avoid straight narrative. Instead, with that narrative, he intersperses album profiles, mini-features on sessions that serve to illustrate key trends and moments in Impulse's history.

Kahn explains how Impulse was a rarity in that it was born fully mature. He says that while labels like Blue Note had to grow into their greatness, Impulse was there from the start and quickly found its "standard-bearer" in John Coltrane, whose works for the label are the culmination of all of his previous experience and his experimental spirit fueled the label.

There are tons of great photos and a complete discography means that this great read is also a great reference for jazz fans. The fact that the spine of the book mimics the inimitable orange and black spine of the original gatefold LPs only serves to bring further …

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(Photo: Annalisa Savoca)

Arezzo Wave Foundation works to bolster Italian music abroad

Visit the Arezzo Wave Foundation's (FAWI) Web site and you'll likely be amazed at the kinds of things the Tuscan non-profit is doing in the name of Italian youth culture. In addition to organizing and promoting the extremely popular annual Arezzo Wave Love Festival -- often dubbed Italy's Woodstock -- for the past 20 years, the organization has, for the past four, also been promoting Italian music across Europe and overseas.

The Foundation aims, in its words, "to maximize, preserve and increase the potential of youth culture and to maximize, promote and export Italian music abroad."

It's the kind of support that most hard working, independent musicians can usually only fantasize about.

In addition to a radio station, the foundation runs a number of competitions, allowing artists from across Italy to gain a wider audience. Arezzo Wave Band is for emerging groups, Elettrowave Challenge is for audio/visual artists and Cabawave is for cabaret performers. But there's also now Comicswave for graphic novelists and comic artists and Photowave for photographers.

A complete list of Arezzo Wave's activities would be far too lengthy to run here.

FAWI also helps Italian bands tour outside Italy and over the past two years, some of those performers have come to the United States, including Carmen Consoli, Fiamma Fumana, Linea 77 and Piccola Orchestra Avion Travel, most of which have performed in Chicago.

Avion Travel is also coming back this spring, along with Ferruccio Spinetti and Petra Magoni.

We took that opportunity to ask Mauro Valenti, artistic director of the festival and president of the foundation, about FAWI's history and mission and the promotion of Italian music in the United States.

BT: After the festival, how was the idea for the foundation born. Was there a model or is it the first example of a project of this kind?

MV: The Arezzo Wave Love Festival was born in 1987 and we are celebrating the 20th edition this year. The foundation on the other hand was…

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Miles / Trane set long overdue

It takes a Milwaukeean, sometimes, to get the job done. When ex-Brew City gal Cheryl Pawelski, who has worked in L.A. in the music biz for well over a decade took a job at Concord Records, which had just purchased the huge Fantasy Records jazz, blues, soul, folk and rock catalog, she promised this writer that good things were coming soon.

She didn't lie. The first fruit of her tenure in A&R at Concord has led to "The Miles Davis Quartet: The Legendary Prestige Sessions," which she assembled along with Stuart Kremsky and Nick Phillips.

Casting aside the cumbersome boxes of Fantasy's past, the trio has put every tune that Davis recorded with his group that included John Coltrane -- who was just beginning to formulate and master his sheets of sound technique-- pianist Red Garland, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Philly Joe Jones -- onto three discs in an attractive, slim box with a thick booklet.

There's also a fourth disc of unreleased materialm including seven tunes recorded on "The Tonight Show" in 1955 and a multi-media feature with five transcriptions of Davis solos.

The booklet is packed with photos and essays and recording information, but its the music that is the star here. Davis is the kind of musician that people either love or love to hate, but there's no question that, like Art Blakey, his bands served as jazz universities for decades.

With this group, he really introduced Coltrane to a wider audience via these recordings ("Relaxin'," "Steamin'," "Workin'" and "The New Miles Davis Quintet") and the ones recorded concurrently for Columbia. Often, that audience wasn't savvy enough to understand what the tenor man was up to, but as that changed, the world began to realize that the Davis quintet was one of the seminal bands in jazz.

In a recent e-mail, Pawelski -- who tapped a number of local bands for her Bruce Springsteen tribute project when she worked at EMI -- promised more goodies, but declined to get specific. We'll just have to wait and see.

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