Smooth jazz. I must admit as a reviewer the smooth jazz genre has been the most difficult to break down because to my ear, it pretty much all sounds the same. You start off with a built-in Casio beat from your programmed drum machine, add some "smooth" jazzy light keyboards, the occasional sultry Sade-ish female voice, and top off with a health serving of Kenny G style saxophone. It's not that the musicians themselves are subpar, it's just always struck me as odd that professional artists would want to stick themselves in the rut of a music genre that is so cookie cutter consistent. So, when I received Yulara's latest smooth jazz offering Future Tribe, I was less than optimistic. Unfortunately, with a few exceptions, Yulara didn't change my mind one bit - the music on Future Tribe comes across as simply more cardboard cut-out smooth jazz. Pleasant background music at best...
In their defense, Yulara does take a more worldly approach to their music, incorporating many Eastern religious influences in their songs - even going as far as naming two of the cuts "Om Namah Shivaya" after a Sanskrit mantra that roughly translates to "Om and salutations to what I am capable of becoming". In keeping with this spiritual vibe, the track "Oming Ocean" even contains some throatsinging and Eastern percussion as well. Unfortunately, while this is the most interesting track on the CD, it only lasts a meager 3 minutes. The bulk of the CD's time is dedicated to songs that are far less engaging and inventive. I would imagine that only extremely hardcore smooth jazz fans would stay interested in this CD for more than a few tracks.
The musicianship on Future Tribe is fine - Annie Hilsberg has the faux-funky flute and sax bit down pat, and the programmed percussion rhythms are serviceable if not distinctive. Some of Robert Matt's piano work is very tastefully done, but much to the CD's detriment it is not featured nearly enough to make a major positive impact. The title track "Future Tribe" does contain some signs of life with some very nice dissonant keys/sax work, but even that can't save the song or the entire CD from becoming just another indistinctive smooth jazz release in a sea of indistinctive smooth jazz releases. Perhaps next time, Yulama will allow themselves to be a bit more experimental with their compositions and instrumentation, but for now there's really nothing to distinguish Yulama from the scores of similar "jazz" acts in existence today. Yawn.
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