Us3: Hand On The Torch
Much of the talk about Us3, hip hop, and its mixture of rap with jazz has centered around the sampling of legendary jazz tunes. While rap remains the centerpiece, jazz sampling takes a back seat to the fine mainstream jazz presented by the members of Us3, including trumpeter Gerard Presencer, guitarist Tony Remy, trombonist Dennis Rollins, pianist Matt Cooper, and saxophonists Ed Jones, Mike Smith & Steve Williamson. The arranging, programming, and effects are created by Mel Simpson and Geoff Wilkinson; their keyboard accompaniment includes synthesized bass, drums, and more. The name Us3 comes from a tune named "Us Three" that the Horace Parlan trio recorded for Blue Note in 1960.
"Cantaloop," with its sampling of Herbie Hancock's classic tune and the voice of Pee Wee Marquette, features Presencer's clear trumpet voice integrated with the sample; rapper Rahsaan says, "Gimme more of that funky horn," and the trumpeter goes off on a powerful solo to match the description. "I Got It Goin' On" uses the sampling of Reuben Wilson's organ as a backdrop for horn work by Presencer, Rollins, and Smith; trombonist Rollins presents a bebop solo with clearly-defined articulation and a warm, confident tone. The rap lyrics of "I Go To Work" offer a theme similar to that of the other tunes: despite growing up in a rough neighborhood and facing many obstacles, we are able, with a hardened attitude, to do the right thing after all. As rap artist Kobie Powell delivers the message, guitarist Tony Remy offers a fine solo in the mode of Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, and any number of leading jazz guitarists. With his Jamaican accent and monotone rap, Tukka Yoot teams with Ed Jones on "Tukka Yoot's Riddim" and Gerard Presencer on "Eleven Long Years" to present a message and to introduce his instrumental partners. "Lazy Day" blends a repeated sample from Bobby Hutcherson's vibes in the background, a story from rapper Powell, a lovely African chant from singer Marie Harper, and solid fill and solo support from Ed Jones' tenor sax.
While it's true that this album, presented by Us3, is rap music with a strong beat, a chip on its shoulder, and by design suited primarily for strenuous dancing, there is an artistic quality in the music that cannot be overlooked. The percussive rap voices, the cooperative horn work, the instrumental solos, the integration of sampling, and all the rhythmic effects that hold it together make this art form interesting, enjoyable and worthy of further study.