As far as I can tell, not many people have heard Freestylin’, released in 1993 on Ubiquity Records by Harold Todd (on tenor sax and flute) with guitarist Marc Antoine and a host of hip-hop rhythms, loops, techniques and musicians. But just about every person thathasheard it – at least at MY house – has seemed to groove on it.
Freestylin’ is most probably acid-jazz. Though, I fear, some of its more soft and somber moments are most likely closer to the dread smooth-jazz. Actually, instead of jazz, it might all be closer to pure R’n’B – the hip-hop and funk rhythm tracks are simple and swinging, and the musicians consistently generate that indescribable feeling of diggin’ into ‘em, all hot and nasty rhythm instead of merely playing along – with a ton of solos from Todd and Antoine on top instead of vocals. Is that jazz?
It’s sure much more adventuresome trumpet / flute / guitar music than Herb Alpert or Sade, for example, but it doesn’t sound as "jazz-y" as Freddie Hubbard or The Crusaders either. It’s usually not as pristine-sounding as some of the smooth-est jazz, and usually sounds cooler than that...sort of like a hip-hopped version of soulful mid-70s albums by Herbie Mann and Yusef Lateef (when the spotlight’s on Todd), and / or a cagey, way younger and hip George Benson (when on Antoine).
Todd clearly invokes the fiery, pin-wheeling spirit of the Pharoah (Sanders) in his sax solo on the title track, gnawing on and tugging against the blue-toned, simple two-chord piano loop that ‘comps atop a rhythm track that sure sounds straight outta Digable Planets, then blows some serious flute to close down the jamming. Antoine is similarly irresistible on "Panacea" and especially "Lite Bake" which deceptively begins like an Average White Band shuffle – until Antoine deftly takes the George Benson bit one step beyond and throws down so thoroughly like Wes Montgomery (not a lot of notes, just the absolutely funky right ones)...while that funky hip-hop beat implacably, continually rocks on.
Freestylin’ is not the kind of album that readily divides into distinct tracks; it’s effect is more cumulative than immediate, creating that relaxed-yet-cookin’ vibe so critical to funky instrumental music and yet so elusive. Miles Davis might havehated Freestylin’. Maybe the loose, improvisational mood and lengthy solos help contribute to thefeelof jazz, but, after all, how much rhythmic interplay can you really create with tapes and loops for the rhythm section? As awesomely talented as his musicians were, it was their spirit in the collective – their all, from everybody – that made most of Miles’ bands great. Then again, Miles wasn’t exactly a purist himself, and might have flat rocked to some of Freestylin’ s more convincing, phonky and frenetic moments. I know I sure do.
Track listing: Ruffneck Jazz; Panacea; Singles Party; La Jolla; On The Strip; Freestylin’; Lite Bake; Texas Twister; Who’s Gonna Be The Junkie?; Outerlude.
Harold Todd (tenor sax and flute) and Marc Antoine (guitar); with Karl Denson (tenor sax), Gary Wing (drums) and Derek G. (bass) on "Who