I regard Lenny White's Present Tense as one of the best fusion recordings of the '90s, so I had high hopes for this one. Edge is an appropriate title for this latest from the ace drummer. It definitely bites harder than White's last two Hip Bop releases, but some tracks suffer from technology overkill.
Edge is more overtly influenced by hip-hop and contemporary R&B than White's other '90s releases, and fans of all those two genres will find much here to like. But there's a pre-programmed feel to some of the tracks that I didn't detect on White's last two efforts, both of which effectively blended techno sounds with more organic instrumentation, most notably the leader's breakneck drumming.
I'm all for blending jazz with R&B, but Edge relies a bit too heavily on keyboard effects. A few of these songs are weighed down by pseudo strings, sampled crowd noises, and synth atmospherics, most especially the bloated remake of Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," which does nada for me. Plus, the tunes "Exit," "Mr. Depriest," and "Semi-Five" feature a keyboard that's programmed to sound like a guitar. Given Lenny White's contacts in the fusion world, why didn't he just bring in a real guitarist?
Still, many folks will dig this CD, and rightfully so. White continues to fuse jazz, hip-hop, and R&B more effectively than most artists in contemporary jazz. Edge is also enhanced by saxophonist Bennie Maupin, the veteran player from The Headhunters. Maupin's airy eloquence adds some much-needed soul to the high-tech atmospherics.
The best thing about Edge is Lenny White. With his thundering climax on "Exit," his loping hip-hop syncopations on "Big D," the cool swing thing he lays down on "No Man's Land," and the funk-rock rhythms on "Semi-Five," the master drummer shows he can still do it all. The 11 cuts on Edge are more rhythmically complex than most R&B-based jazz, but they work best when the technology is deployed subtly. Consequently my favorite track is the Yellowjackets-like "No Man's Land," which features Maupin's cool sax and an intricate acoustic piano solo by Patrice Rushen. "Mr. Depriest" has a kind of sinister hip-hop meets Miles Davis groove that I also love.
White often reinterprets a classic pop song in an electric-jazz context, and here he enlists Dianne Reeves to sing "It was a Very Good Year." This version of the Sinatra classic is OK, but it's less successful than the great rendition of "Walk on By" that appeared on White's Renderers of Spirit (1996).
Edge has a of good things going for it, but it's not in the same league as the drummer's previous two releases. In my mind, few albums are.