Future Fusions: Hear and Now

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Either that, or 'Mayonnaise' sounds like Randy Newman working out horn charts with Tom Waits in a room full of laughing gas...
Many artists have been reaching toward truly fusing jazz with soul, hip-hop, trip-hop, electronic, and other non-jazz forms of music. And it's tempting to think that this fusion will happen, but happen eventually, sometime in the future. It seems more and more apparent that there may no longer be a need to wait for it. If you keep your eyes and ears open, you may discover this future fusion in the here and now.

Warner Bros.

Trumpeter, composer, and producer Pascal Ohsé serves with producer Ludovic Navarre as French trip-hop hipsters St. Germain. A Conservatoire trained trumpeter (and former Tito Puente sideman), Ohsé recorded this solo debut in his home studio just outside his native Paris, honoring his Guinean roots by assuming the West African name Soel.

Memento is an old-school soul jazz record. It is not a soul-jazz record like the classic Atlantic sides cut in the 1970s by Eddie Harris, Les McCann, Herbie Mann and others. It is an old-school soul record first — new "old 1970s sounds from the likes of Isaac Hayes, cinematic and romantic, sexually healing — potently laced with jazz trumpet, saxophone and keyboard solos. "I have always been a huge fan of American R&B, soul and jazz. To me, it is the closest thing we have to a universal musical language, Ohsé explains. "But it's a language that needs to be updated every so often. You have to treat the sources with respect but still make room for the new idioms and expressions.

Ohsé updates these American styles with thick and repetitive hip-hop grooves. Like any great soul record, he fuels the funk from the bottom up, with an amazing bassist (Mike Clinton), razor-sharp guitarists Frantz Cancul and Alex Legrand, and percussion and keyboards shading in the grooves. The horns — Edivandro Borges on trombone, Edouard Labor on saxophone and flute and Rachid Mouna on saxophone, plus Ohsé on trumpet — add jazz style with swinging, soulful solos and support.

The opening "Le Viconte kicks off a jazz-hop groove that bounces on a sample of Kenny Burrell's "Chitterlings con Carne performed by Pucho & His Latin Soul Brothers, joined in the melody first by flute, then organ, then horns, assuming the form of ferocious new dust-up of Herbie Mann's classic flute groove "Memphis Underground, but updated into Ohsé new (old) soul music.

"Shining Pains busts off more jazz-hop: Walking bass coupled in lockstep with funk drums kick a groove way too hard for a jazz record, saxophone wraps the melody up tight, introducing a more open middle passage where Ohsé shows off his most expressive playing, strong in melody AND rhythm, genuinely modern yet old-school jazz-funk trumpet. Later, in the smooth ballad "The Way You Are, Ohsé lowers hushed romantic shades like Miles Davis playing Romeo soft outside the window balcony of Juliet.

"My Singing Soul and "Black Woman are more soul than jazz, simmering stewpots of classic 1970s Isaac Hayes and Barry White sound, thick and steamy with bass and rhythm guitar, slippery sweet strings and soft brass, everything harmonizing to conjure up powerfully evocative and sexy music. (The female vocal on "My Singing Soul synchs up perfectly with Donna Summer's lascivious "Love to Love You Baby, that's how deep and hot its groove.)

Ohsé introduces even more styles by pulling samples from the spoken-word aggregate The Last Poets into "Black Woman and "We Have Died Already, and by honoring an American Indian poem "Earth Mother in bongos, tabla and dub.

Nostalgia '77
The Garden

British-based composer / multi-instrumentalist / producer Ben Lamdin, who released his first album as Nostalgia '77 last year, describes his style as "a combination of soul and jazz composition with computer-based production techniques.

The Garden delivers Lamdin's fusion of electric British jazz with slippery trip-hop, boasting first-rate chops from the principal on guitar, piano, and drums; trumpet player Kelsey Jones; saxophonists John Shenoy and Tessa Lewin, and John Styles on bass clarinet; and especially bassist / double bassist Riaan Volsoo, member of British free jazz group Electric Dr. M. and recent collaborator with drum & bass pioneers Spring Heel Jack.

Extended trumpet, saxophone and other solos will help jazz fans feel quite comfortable in this Garden, where, among Lamdin's other jazz influences, Sun Ra and the genre-busting collective AACM prominently bloom. It is a well-organized and layered garden, with jazz instrumental solos blossoming upon the top while trip-hop, hip-hop, and other electronic rhythms provide the fertile rhythmic soil below.

"Changes deftly dances in fluid rhythm while the horns navigate a 32-bar ensemble riff that leads into, then out of, even more extensive solos from Jones on trumpet and Shenoy on saxophone. Lamdin's oddly angular and blue repeated guitar figure (think James "Blood Ulmer) constructs a harmonically- and rhythmically-free playground in "Green Blades of Grass for trumpet and saxophone to scamper through.

Similarly, "You and Me gestates from a minor, four-note piano riff into a full-scale interstellar expedition fueled by off-center, Sun Ra-esque wobbly psychedelic blues horns. In "After Ararat, the be-boppish horn chart explodes from the midst of Russell Knight's thick and gnarly bed of African percussion. "The Hunger also shows off a ten-piece horn chart atop a liquid bass, piano and percussion flow.

"Freedom might even be Lamdin's celebration piece about the potential of his exciting hybrid: Genuine jazz-hop where the horn section rips off torrid sheets of blues and bop while the rhythm section thumps and wriggles into a world of deep, mercurial funk.

He also tosses off his own non-jazz curveball with a cover of White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army, stripped down to bass, drums and rhythm guitar, then set ablaze by Alice Russell's incendiary vocal.

"Coming from producing hip-hop style beats, I'd always heard snippets of jazz tracks I loved, Lamdin reflects upon this Garden. "This LP was a way of doing some jazz tracks which did what I wanted from start to finish.

MIDIval Punditz MIDIval Times
Six Degrees

It's not just musicians operating in Paris and the UK who are expanding musical horizons.

Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj first came to international prominence through their work with Bill Laswell, Zakir Hussain, Trilok Gurtu, Talvin Singh, Karsh Kale and Ustad Sultan Khan in the collective Tabla Beat Science. As MIDIval Punditz, the duo is widely regarded as the first South Asian band to fully synthesize modern Western electronic music with regional traditional and classical music, to create a new sound for 21st-century India. "What we're trying to do is to stretch Western audiences towards Indian sounds, says Raina, "and to stretch Indian audiences towards modern, electronic, Western music.

Their electronic beats, cast in these MIDIval Times, dance with some of the most honored names in traditional and modern Indian music, including Anoushka Shankar, daughter and protégé of the legendary Ravi Shankar, and master of the sarangi Khan and percussionist / beatmaster / producer Kale, returning adventurers from Tabla Beat Science. So although the production sparkles with the sheen of an electronica or techno set, MIDIval Times still sounds and feels like Indian music.

There's no mistaking the Indian roots, for example, that give "Saathi life, soaring in its unmistakable ancient sound from Khan's plaintive vocal and stringed sarangi, plucking an airy melody in which every note feels profoundly meaningful, cushioned in soft, fluttering trip-hop, a heady and tasteful synthesis of India ancient and modern. The very title of "Rebirth seems to celebrate its fusion of electronic keyboards and beats with flute which tenderly introduces Shankar's sitar solo, full of energy and reverence, joyously spiritual, advancing the traditional sound of Indian sitar into the new millennium.

In "Khayaal, Indian vocals from Vishal Vaid serve as a center jewel cast in the colorful blinking neon of the modern electronic trance style. "Piya similarly twirls together flute, tabla, sitar and female vocals into its kaleidoscopic electronic palette, somehow sounding both very traditional AND modern. So does the set-ending "Hold On.

On the other hand, "Enemy delivers totally different music: a crunching backbeat of brittle and jagged, metallic techno bass and drum, through which Gaulam Cheema's lead electric guitar screams like a shrieking nightmare. When Cheema's guitar kicks into overdrive, this piece totally and thoroughly rocks.

Hypnotic Clambake Mayonnaise
Blue Button

Mayonnaise does not really fit in with the other titles in this column. Which is okay, because it wouldn't fit in with the titles in just about any other column, either.

Hailing from Boston, Hypnotic Clambake brings together Maury Rosenberg (accordion, piano, keyboards, percussion, vocals) and Chris Reynolds (bass, guitar, drums, percussion, samples, vocals) with bassist Jim Schwarz and hornman Tim Hull (tenor sax, soprano sax, clarinet, vocals). This set of thirteen new songs also features guest trombonist Rick McRae of They Might Be Giants, drummer Mark Phillips, and vocalists Sarah Long and Toni Phillips, Sr.

Frequent appearances by accordion and clarinet give some songs an Eastern European tinge. But other songs sound rooted in funky New Orleans funhouse rhythm and blues. There probably aren't too many Eastern Europe New Orleans R&B records in anybody's collection...

...either that, or this sounds like Randy Newman working out horn charts with Tom Waits in a room full of laughing gas...

Most tracks swing comfortably with simple melodies and rhythms, and the lyrical wordplay is more often clever than not (although in "Turn Your Brain Off, it's close to dreadful). Things get pretty wacky pretty quick with the opening "500 Robots, a chunk o' Crescent City R&B spiked with horn charts that echo Lee Allen's seminal work for Little Richard and others in the rock & roll glory days of Specialty Records. "Man with the Face on the Side is also marinated in motion by a sassy, rhythmic bass line and horns spicy and smooth like Louisiana hot sauce.

The loping boogie-woogie piano melody in "Trouble also sounds rooted in New Orleans, but Long's high-end vocal harmonies turn its chorus into a ringing echo of "St. Stephen, a spirited early classic by the Grateful Dead.

From the flipside, "Psychedelic Polka unleashes Yiddish-sounding musical mayhem, where clarinet plays call and response with the stream-of-consciousness vocal to a two-step rhythm that will be familiar to anyone who's ever attended a traditional Polish or Slovak wedding. This polka two-step reappears in the bridge to "Woe is Me.

"Beans is average white band funk featuring a sweet and dry cocktail jazz piano interlude and a rollicking trombone solo that escorts the song to its conclusion. But to jazz fans, the instrumentals "Clambake and "Danger Mouse will sound most attractive.

The multi-movement, eight-minute "Danger Mouse is no less ambitious for its cartoon-y feel and subject. As if there weren't already enough musical tribes blended into this Mayonnaise, it introduces the sunny up-tempo rhythm of ska and underlines it with trombone. The groove shifts mid-song into an electric piano jazz, which pinwheels to counterpoint a winsome clarinet melody, momentarily climaxes in resolving the chords, then dances back off into ska-land to close. "Danger Mouse would have most likely made Frank Zappa smile.

The closing "Clambake winds this Mayonnaise up in (of all places) the Caribbean, with a straight-up calypso instrumental that rings rhythmically true. It helps the listener leave this musical "Clambake smiling, even if still a bit unsure about what had just been digested.


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