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IsWhat?!: Not to be Defined...

AAJ Staff By

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Improvisation is so much a part of what we do. To mix it up with the scratch artists and the DJs is as complex a form of improvisation as is playing with other instruments.
Hyena Records, the newest baby of producer extraordinaire Joel Dorn, is quite obviously one of the most eclectic labels in music. Reissues of Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Thelonious Monk catalog grab your attention at first, but any label that features records by both Bobby Darin and James "Blood Ulmer in the same catalogue is clearly open to a variety of possibilities. This same kind of free-range eclecticism within the label carries over to the eclecticism inherent to one of its latest signings, IsWhat?!

IsWhat?!—no, we're not asking a question, and it's not an Abbott and Costello routine either. IsWhat?! is rather—a mantra that speaks to the group's refusal to be pinned down to any particular genre or style, and to create music that is for "the people but which does not simply pander to what people are comfortable in hearing. IsWhat?! in fact, is an amalgamation of influences and music-making techniques that reflects the different cultural and musical backgrounds its three members bring to the fore. Consistent with the whole ethos, the first record for the label is called You Figure it Out.

Now while there are some clear foundations in both jazz and hip-hop, and while "jazz hip-hop is clearly the tag some will attempt to apply, this is by no means "jazz hip-hop e.g. Russell Gunn or Roy Hargrove. When your bassist comes from a punk background and your emcee is a free jazz nut who is as likely to check out an Ayler record as a Sugar Hill Gang side, it stands to reason this wouldn't be a predictable sort of "fusion. And irrespective of trying to define its sound, the band itself is a unique confluence of "sounds , featuring saxophonist/flutist Jack Walker, bassist Matt Anderson, and the wild card that throws off any possibility of this being just like your grandfather's jazz- emcee and human drum machine Napoleon Maddox.


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