One Big Soul Party: Baltics & Beyond

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Rhett Frazier, Inc.
Escape from Dee-Troyt
Digi-Soul Records
2010

At first, singer-songwriter Rhett Frazier and producer-drummer Donny Gruender "incorporated" this joint retro-futuristic soul side project just to play around, nothing more than a diversion from their Los Angeles studio session work (Gruender, for example, rocks beats for the Motown house band, the Funk Brothers). But their Escape quickly evolved into its own full-blown monster: Two modernists using hip-hop cut and paste methods to recombine the stylistic DNA of rhythm and rock.

The Motor City gave jazz Yusef Lateef

Yusef Lateef
Yusef Lateef
1920 - 2013
reeds
, Barry Harris
Barry Harris
Barry Harris
b.1929
piano
, Betty Carter
Betty Carter
Betty Carter
1930 - 1998
vocalist
and Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd
Donald Byrd
1932 - 2013
trumpet
, and, like these resolute visionaries, Detroit and can be a damn tough yet deeply soulful town: Similarly, every preening Kid Rock stomp that comes screaming out to Escape from Dee-Troyt seems counterbalanced by a ballad that nimbly floats with Marvin Gaye's subtle jazz sophistication.

Escape was produced to sound better played loud, with crackling drums and beats on several tunes that threaten to explode. "Nuthin'" is a riveting declaration of independence framed in a monstrous backbeat stomp, carved out with funky hot rhythm guitar, then signed sealed and delivered by Frazier's treacherous lead vocal. "Heaven" and the concluding "BeLong" swirl hard guitar hooks and bone-crunching drums into boiling cauldrons of hot, thick sound.

Even so, right after "Nuthin'" comes "Faultline," an acoustic guitar slow dive into the deep romanticism of Isley Brothers ballads like "Voyage to Atlantis," a genuinely pretty and surprisingly grown-up pop song; later, the plush strings and gorgeous acoustic piano of "If I Said" seem to honor Earth Wind & Fire.

Sometimes Frazier and Gruender work out these different if not quite competing perspectives in the same tune: In the opening "U Can't Stop," Motown's dance beat thumps beneath rock'n'roll guitars that cut as shiny and hard as assembly line steel, while Frazier's vocal climbs the soulful heights of Eddie Kendricks' classic Temptations' falsetto. The verses to "Is That OK?" glide more slippery hip-hop rails, as its lusty guitar solo and Frazier's double-tracked falsetto introduce the hedonistic funk-rock sound of past master Prince.

Iron Kim Style
Iron Kim Style
MoonJune Records
2010

Iron Kim Style is quite humorous but serious too—The eponymous debut of an improvisational jazz-rock quintet that is: Built around two guitars, with no keyboards, plus trumpet and bass clarinet as the other solo voices; named for both the North Korean dictator and the martial arts style instructed by Grandmaster "Iron" Kim; and, creative home for some of Seattle's most exploratory jazz-rock instrumentalists, including drummer Jay Jaskot and guitarist Dennis Rea, both of whom perform in another progressive jazz-rock instrumental band, Moraine.

No polite introduction: You begin right in the middle of frantic tumult on the "Mean Streets of Pyongyang," ten spacious minutes that leap and bounce through wild-eyed echoes of Miles Davis

Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
trumpet
' electric fusion explorations, with trumpet blasts that struggle in between chaotic guitars and drums which burn to tear the whole town down. This dissolves into the spasmodic guitar funk "Gibberish Falter," which sets the stage for "Po' Brief," an electric guitar trio improvisation called to full stop by the closing clarion trumpet.

"Adrift" shifts the improvisational architecture from electric Miles to Discipline-era King Crimson; guitar harmonics frame its opening, releasing bass clarinet and trumpet, and then gradually darken its sheltering sky. These same guitars chime like bells and groan like monsters washing over "Amber Waves of Migraine."

After the misty reverie "Dreams from Our Dear Leader," Iron Kim Style concludes with its two best musical puns. "Jack Out the Kims" honors two of Michigan's hardest hard rock legends, the classic MC5 rave-up "Kick Out the Jams" and the gloriously messy, rampaging bull elephant sound of the Stooges (but, again, with trumpet). "Slouchin' at the Savoy" ends this tale of Iron Kim by removing the guitars and bass, leaving trumpet to sing a quicksilver New Orleans blues duet with drums.

Entirely improvised, Iron Kim Style features absolutely no verse/chorus structures and very few repeating melodies or phrases, so it can sometimes feel like a long series of introductions that reach very few conclusions. But move beyond this, and Iron Kim Style provides a challenging, complex, and ultimately rewarding listen—just not an easy one.

Gabriel Johnson
Fra_ctured
Electrofone Music
2009

Gabriel Johnson seemed anointed for jazz greatness: A New England Conservatory prodigy who served as musical director for Blood Sweat & Tears when he was merely 24, and was personally recruited by Clint Eastwood to serve as trumpet soloist for Eastwood's films Changeling (2008) and Invictus (2009).


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