Us3: Questions (2005)
I'm a child of the hip-hop generation, so a lot of great music, I'm not ashamed to say, came to me through hip-hop. Us3 turned me on to Herbie Hancock in the same way that Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg turned me on to Parliament and DJ Shadow turned me on to David Axelrod.
So imagine my excitement when I heard that Us3 was resurfacing, retooled with a new lineup behind mastermind Geoff Wilkinson, with their first stateside release since 1997's Broadway and 52nd (an underappreciated gem if ever there was one).
Now imagine my disappointment when I get Questions, out this month on Wilkinson's self-supported Us3.com, and find that Wilkinson's expanded group has lost all the energy and excitement that made Us3's two Blue Note records so hype.
This time around, productionist Wilkinson has assembled a live band to help him construct his songs, ditching the sample-heavy sound of previous efforts. For all intents and purposes, Wilkinson seems to have ditched hip-hop and jazz altogether, replacing the genres with neo-soul and Latin-tinged acid jazz. And like a lot of acid jazz, Questions is all smooth with no edges.
South African vocalist Mpho Skeef adds her sultry song to five of Questions selections. Her R&B tone is typical for the British brand of electro-funk, groove-heavy soul Us3 propagatesneo-bohemia with nu-jazz flare. "Watcha Gonna Do? is saved only by Chris Storr's Latin-flared trumpet. Storr also adds his touch to the Afro-beatish "The Healer.
"What Does That Mean gives unheralded emcee Reggi Wyns room to shine. The Brooklyn-based lyricist's peace-politics rap is a perfect percussive compliment to the rolling bass line and cuts from Morcheeba collaborator DJ First Rate. A few other highlights amidst this lowlightfull album include "Can U Feel It and "Why Not, both of which, not surprisingly, feature Wyns on the mic. Wilkinson has continually made it a point to surround his albums with a dope emcee or two (witness Shabamm Sahdeeq on Blue Note's Broadway & 52nd), and Questions is no different.
Bordering on the disgraceful, Questions also includes two new reworkings of the 1994 hit "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia).
Check out Broadway & 52nd and Hand on the Torch if they aren't already in your collection, and leave Questions for the acid jazz aficionado to savor alone.
Track Listing: 1 A new beginning 2 Whatcha gonna do? 3 Get it together 4 What does that mean? 5 Believe in yourself 6 Cantaloop 2004: soul mix 7 Can u feel it? 8 When she's dancing 9 Why not? 10 The truth 11 Goodbye 12 Give thanks 13 The healer - (listen)
Personnel: Geoff Wilkinson (producer) mpho (v) neil angilley (p) chris storr (t) ed jones (tenor) reggi wyns (rap)