James Taylor, The Daily Texan
There's a fine line between hip hop and jazz. Critics everywhere applaud "groundbreaking" hip-hop groups such as Jurassic 5 and The Roots for supposedly blurring that already fine line. But in all actuality, the fact that Cut Chemist and Nu-Mark dig classic jazz records out of the crate doesn't make J5 a jazz group, and The Roots haven't made a jazz-like album since their fine debut "Organix."
Thirsty Ear Records, on the other hand, has made a name for itself by concretely developing a respectable union of the hip-hop and jazz art forms. Led by Blue Series co-founder Matthew Shipp and his forward-thinking brethren in the NYC free jazz scene, Thirsty Ear's latest offering "The Blue Series Continuum: GoodandEvil Sessions" is a testament to the notion that jazz can still be innovative and fresh.
...available at Amazon.com
The big change comes from the title, the Blue Series Continuum, an ongoing project that seeks to infuse creativity into recording by constantly rotating the cast. For this installment, they've assembled quite a roster; Matthew Shipp on Korg Synthesizer, hard-blowing Roy Campbell on trumpet, figurehead William Parker on bass, and Alex Lodico and Josh Roseman on trombone. Production duo GoodandEvil, who've worked with rappers Northern State and topnotch DJs like Felix Da Housecat and Roni Size, were enlisted to tweak the finished product.
Due to the groove label and DJ influence, one might expect this album to sound like a downtempo DJ peppering blasé beats with clichéd jazz flourishes. The GoodandEvil Sessions thankfully doesn't stoop to those levels; with an ensemble boasting this kind of creative drive, laid-back never becomes a euphemism for boring.
In fact, as the album slowly cycles through a selection of well-crafted grooves, one can't help but feel like they've gotten a morphine shot to the spine. The opener, "Brainwash", is more than the sum of its valuable parts, as a dense collage of instruments slowly comes into focus.
It's a perfect buildup; Shipp's graceful piano makes way for Parker's precise bass hits, the trombone duo lays down a solid bottom, and then the percussion kicks in just in time to let Campbell fly free with his buttery trumpet tones. This track exemplifies the promise implicit in this concept, namely that each individual talent is allowed to shine on a collective stage.
As the album progresses, one can't help but applaud the ways in which the production augments and organizes the work of the live musicians into a cohesive groove without too much meddling. The rich horn blasts found in "Then Again", the fiddling bass line in "Change of Plans", and the muted talking trumpet from "Close Call" all are perfect examples of excellent playing that's left alone.
The Continuum setup represents a producer's wet dream -- live sampling from some of the world's best jazz musicians -- and for the most part GoodandEvil don't let the opportunity slip away.
However, the album doesn't necessarily live up to its promise. With an album with more groove focus than a Phish fan, one might expect the knockout bass lines of William Parker to get a little more attention. Unfortunately, much of the album derives its rhythmic pulse from less-than stellar sounds from this bass heavyweight.
Overall, though, the album succeeds. The GoodandEvil Sessions is obviously not a regular jazz album; the collective mindset, along with production by the GoodandEvil duo, guarantee this album comes closer to an augmented downtempo album than a group of live musicians with some electronic flourishes. It may have been a stronger album if the jazzmen were given a larger focus and more free range, but then again, that's not really the point.
The Blue Series Continuum mixes the organic and the electronic like a skilled DJ working a pair of turntables, and the result, a unique style of jazz-based grooves, promises that there's more to come from this unique series.
...available at Amazon.com
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