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Wednesday, April 3, 2002

HIGH NOTES

Jimi Tenor


If there's enough temporal distance between your music and that music's source influence, you may be mistaken for an original. Better yet, if you strip that influence to its basics, you can be labeled a purist. Sometimes this strategy backfires, and you get people like Tiny Tim, a minimalist throwback whose success was based on his appeal as a grotesque. Until he died a few years ago, however, Tiny Tim always thought of himself as a serious musician.

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Jimi Tenor isn't grotesque, but most people find him eccentric. And yet he, too, is resolutely serious about the lounge music he makes. A classically trained musician (piano and flute), Tenor followed the brief, late-'80s European underground success of his dance band, Jimi and the Shamans, with an extended sojourn in New York City, where he was introduced to minimalist techno. Upon returning to his native Finland in 1995, he started making records for local label Sahko and then Warp, the influential U.K. electronica imprint. But rather than build on the experimentalism that first drew him to electronic music, he prettied it up with '70s soul flourishes and falsetto vocals, becoming to Prince what Tiny Tim was to Rudy Vallee.

"Utopian Dream," his first album since parting ways with Warp, treats the organ-based lounge aesthetic that peaked at least five years ago as a mode of earnest expression rather than ironic indulgence. Cinematic yet intimate, the album is minimalist only in design. Its reach is formidable, from the Top 40 playfulness of "Moonfolks" to the futuristic cool-jazz of "New World." Even a song as ridiculous as "Natural Cosmic Relief," sung with all the gravity of Jim Morrison at his most poetically obtuse ("Show me an armpit that's hairy and stinky with sweat/Do me a favor, don't cover it in a flower bed"), has a syncopated power that moves with sinister purpose from minor to major keys and back again.

In Europe, Tenor is considered a fringe jazz artist. He's even been known to perform with big bands. For Japan, he'll be bringing his wife, Nicole, on vocals, as well as a two-man horn section, which, considering the efficiency of his self-played recordings, sounds like enough. If it doesn't sound like enough, then you're probably expecting too much. Also on the bill: DJ Fliegen and "some movies."

Jimi Tenor: April 18, 10 p.m., at Club Karma, Osaka (Smash West, [06] 6361-0313); and April 20, 6 p.m., at Ebisu Milk, Tokyo ([03] 5458-2826). Tickets are 3,000 yen in advance, 3,500 yen at the door.


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