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CD Review: Beans – Only

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Beans, aka Mr. Ballbeam, “the Ornette Coleman of this rap sh!t,” has something completely different for you: 10 tracks of back and forth and back again collaboration with jazz greats William Parker (bass) and Hamid Drake (percussion). Rich enough for repeat listenings, clean enough to turn those repeats back to back, this one’s going on your iPod and your work computer.

Only is wall-to-wall laid back basslines, crisp and sharp percussion, and a lot of smart arrangements. Nothing overpowers; every instrument, effect, and lyric is given space to breathe, to express itself. Themes arrive, are developed and played with, expanded and strippped down. I want to say that it’s stylish in a cocktail hour kind of way, but without the cheap showiness of what you hear in hotel lobbies these days. There’s serious depth and quality here.

As a whole, the album moves in an arc, not in terms of speed, but in terms of intensity and tension. Some of these songs are very tense, tightly controlled. You get the sense of a live session, with the freedom of improvisation and the thrill of seeing a group on the edge.

A couple of highlights: “118” is midtempo but Beans delivers his edgy, snarky lines at full speed for the first half of the track. There’s an eruption, enivornmental sounds and a wandering synth line, another eruption. Half cool jazz instrumental, half uptempo hip hop. Alternating lines, jazz and hip hop sharing the same space, going back and forth. “56” starts off with a midtempo duet between Drake and Parker. Not only does Beans drop by the jazz house with some lyrics, but he brings his own looping beats. It’s not back and forth, like “118,” but it’s a blend, a medley, a real concert.

Overall, a fluid, laid back record that’s smart enough to keep in your permanent collection. Very different from Beans‘ earlier solo records, like 2004’s Shock City Maverick or his work with the late, great Antipop Consortium. If you know the older stuff you get to hear an interesting new side. Instead of cutting edge hip hop, Only is a true dialogue between hip hop and jazz. Keep an eye out for it, join the conversation.

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About Jason Malikow