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ORDINAIRES (Buy CDs by this artist)
The Ordinaires (Ger. Dossier) 1985 (Bar/None / Restless) 1990
One (Bar/None) 1989

Though based in New York, this all-instrumental big-band ensemble had its debut album first released in Germany. On it, nine men and women — covering guitars, horns, woodwinds, strings and percussion — make a totally unique and marvelous sound, combining styles and eras with equanimity. Polytonality rules here with a twisted but firm hand, guiding the convoluted pieces through strident (never discordant) passages filled with sharp turns, sudden volume shifts and abrupt tempo changes. Advanced without being obnoxiously arty, this is an album to curl your hair and spark your imagination. (The 1990 reissue, despite incorrect sleeve and label copy that omits any mention of "The Last Song," does contain the entire original record, as well as a bonus version of the Rolling Stones' "She's Like a Rainbow" from the same sessions.)

The equally delightful One is alternately swinging and funky, at its best suggestive of Henry Cow with a highly developed sense of humor (one number is titled "The Dance of the Coco Crispies"). The group's rhythmic command remains incredible, and its eclecticism comes off as honest and modest, not ostentatious. The album ends with a wry but powerful rendition of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," which earned the group some attention outside of its usual circles. The Ordinaires disbanded in April '91.

[Ira Robbins/Glenn Kenny]