While gigging in and around Rochester, New York, the Respect Sextet
circulated a demo CD entitled Respectacle
. This portmanteau, as I'm fairly sure it was intended, conjures immediate associations with other words: respect, spectacle and receptacle. All three are appropriate. The players in this six-piece delight in paying homage to every one of their musical influences and enjoy drawing attention to themselves... and their debut full-length, The Full Respect
, is a bag about as mixed as they come.
It's hard not to be charmed by what you might call the band's capable clowning as they hop with enviable agility from the Mentos theme song to hard bop, ragtime, swing, and the not-yet-fully-explored sonic properties of squeaky squeeze toy. And while the Respect Sextet nods in every direction possible, there isn't a standard to be found on the disc. Each of the eighteen tracks is an original.
So why do I still approach this disc with apprehension? I suppose it's the fact that it all seems intended as jazz for people who don't like jazz, something akin to the They Might Be Giants horn section (a very talented and entertaining horn section, mind you) taking the group's songs out on a separate tour as instrumentals. In other words, quirky and good for a few laughs, but nothing worth listening to outside of a live performance.
Then there's the feeling that the Respect Sextet is uncomfortable about being in earnest. Almost everything has a dash of irony. "Doo Rag," a great little Joplin-esque interlude, ends with a burst of cacophony, like a punchline to a joke. Despite some inspired flourishes, the two "Tag Game" tracks are just playful studio nonsense. And the excellent "Lost Time" doesn’t even last a full minute and a half, as if to get it over in a hurry before anyone catches on that there might be real feeling involved.
There are some meatier offerings, among which are the nearly nine-minute "Cartel," cool and atmospheric; and "LaRutz B'Chutz," which is comparable to the sadly underrated output of the jazz-klezmer proponents Kol Simcha (aka The World Quintet). But this handful of tracks isn't quite enough to counterbalance the slightness of the rest. For an outfit that aims to mingle the "serious, heady, and intellectual" with the "light, comic, and absurd," the latter grouping tends to get more showing than the first. There's no doubt that the Respect Sextet owes a lot to diverse influences. Yet those same influences would probably be better served if the group was to take some of these sarcastic one-offs and tongue-in-cheek jam sessions and inject them with a substance equal to their ability.