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The once and future Hanrahan

Vertical's Currency
Vertical's Currency
By Kip Hanrahan

American Clavé: 1985 (reissued 1998)

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Days and Nights of Blue Luck Inverted
Days and Nights of Blue Luck Inverted
By Kip Hanrahan

American Clavé: 1988 (reissued 1998)

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A Thousand Nights and a Night (Shadow Night)
A Thousand Nights and a Night (Shadow Night)
By Kip Hanrahan

American Clavé: 1998

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This Night Becomes a Rumba
This Night Becomes a Rumba
By Deep Rumba

American Clavé: 1998

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These reviews first appeared in the April 3, 1999 edition of the American Reporter.

Trying to describe what Kip Hanrahan is gets a bit sticky. He plays a little percussion, but he's not primarily a musician. He writes or co-writes most of the songs on his albums, but he's not simply a composer.

The best word to fit Hanrahan's career may be the cinematic "auteur" – like Woody Allen's films, Hanrahan's projects are a distillation of everything he does. He selects the musicians. Chooses the songs. Plays a little. Writes a little. Mostly, it would seem, sets a mood. A mood that lets the others' creativity take off. A mood that encourages and nurtures. Probably angers and annoys at times, too.

Whatever it is he does, the results are wonderful, and have been throughout his career, which stretches back to the early '80s.

But trying to describe that music is as ultimately doomed as trying to describe the man behind it. Words don't seem a big help. Complex, multi-layered, dark, moody, shifting, polyrhythmic. All can fairly describe the music on Hanrahan's projects without ever really capturing it.

In a way, a simple list of the musicians on any particular Hanrahan album can provide as accurate a snapshot of what you'll find as any review or prose.

His 1985 release, "Vertical's Currency," for instance – newly issued on CD – features former Cream vocalist/bassist Jack Bruce, Latin percussionists Milton Cardona and Puntilla Orlando Rios, avant-garde saxophonist David Murray, drummer Ignacio Berroa, jazz bassist Steve Swallow and keyboardist Peter Scherer. And when you listen to the swirling, funky and poetic "Shadow Song," well, yeah, the above roster makes as much sense as anything outside of actually listening to the disc.

Or perhaps the best way to capture the sense of on atypically typical Hanrahan effort is to quote from his free-form liner notes. Off a new CD reissue of 1987's "Days and Nights of Blue Luck Inverted":

He once loved this woman. And they made love so hard the walls would sweat. And the bed would beak to pieces and the light would fall away. He didn't know if she made love that way out of anger or joy, and the way he didn't understand it was the way he was driven to love her so hard.

Okay, we're not really making sense here and still haven't managed to get across what a Hanrahan disc is like.

What he does is find really talented people – the late jazz pianist Don Pullen was a particular favorite, as are singers Jack Bruce and Sting – and put them together with unlike others who are equally talented and see what percolates out of all that.

Two new recordings, "This Night Becomes a Rumba" and "A Thousand Nights and a Night," illustrate quite clearly that Hanrahan has not lost his touch.

"Thousand Nights" is a series of musical tales based on "Arabian Nights," and is an intrinsic little word/music play with a richly illustrated booklet that would be worth having by itself for the photography and picture poems. What more can one say without becoming either insufferably pompous or ridiculous?

"Rumba" is a gathering of some of the best Latin musicians in the world – Milton Cardona, Ruben Blades, El Negro Horacio Hernandez, Andy Gonzalez, Puntilla Orlando Rios.

Even more. As titled, it is rumba – but rumba like you've never heard it. Rumba, perhaps, like it's never been played. Rumba like the darkest, blackest cup of coffee you've ever tasted. Rumba like Hemingway might have found at some café in Havana. Rumba like rumba would sound in your deepest dreams.

In other words, typical Hanrahan.