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Money Mark 

Change is Coming (Emperor Norton)

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Like a drunk who keeps scarfing down hors d'oeuvres, the pop renaissance man rarely digests everything he bites into. See Elvis Costello as classical maestro, Todd Rundgren as techno Buck Rogers, Prince as triple-disc conceptualizer, and Garth Brooks as Chris Gaines. Core audiences are insulted, critical goodwill is squandered, and golden touches are lost over such lame undertakings. But for Beastie Boys sideman "Money" Mark Nishita, the departure was his breakthrough. After brewing up some retro instrumental funk with the Beastie Boys and releasing his debut, Mark's Keyboard Repair, in 1995, Nishita spread his wings to reveal 1998's astonishing Push the Button. Ridiculously diverse, the album boasted sample-heavy funk, crisp Latin rhythm, hip-hop Hindi raga, Nick Lowe-esque pub rock, groggy Lou Reed-like pop, and buttery '70s soul -- all convincing, exuberant, and wrought by what was essentially a one-man band. And his singing, defying the usual instrumentalist-turned-singer equation, was rich, unstrained, and understated. Nishita was a man without musical and cultural barriers -- Frank Zappa with a heart.

Returning to all-instrumentals for Change might seem like an attenuation of Nishita's gifts, but not so fast. "Glitch in Da System" is vibey '60s soul with tilted countermelodies that fold in on each other at odd angles, and "Another Day" is a gorgeously earthy, acoustic blend of arching bossa nova and flamenco guitar work. The album's most sweetly evocative track is "Rain (NYC)" -- reedy keyboard, quiet samba guitars, and shimmering clarinet flourishes that are appropriately Gershwinish. It's unmistakable and heartbreaking: the breezy lovers' city of Woody Allen's Manhattan, whose cosmopolitan intimacy none of us may ever feel again in quite the same way. Funkier than the Beastie workouts (which always strained a little) and more fully realized than the veritable snippets on Keyboard Repair, the 18 cuts on Change is Coming are less of a carnival than Push the Button, but sleek, sweet, and eclectic nonetheless.

More by Andrew Marcus

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