My parents were thrilled to learn that I enjoyed the music of Glen Miller and other big bands in between listening to The Beatles and Bob Dylan. Isn't that common for most generations — to discover that children like the music their parents grew up with? My oldest son really enjoyed Jimi Hendrix right along with the stars of his era, Madonna, The Cars, and Smashing Pumpkins. My youngest son, the drummer, really liked the work of Dave Brubeck and Gene Krupa. Conversely, my parents never embraced Steppenwolf and to my sons' displeasure, I never enjoyed rap.
Quincy Jones changed my mind in 1989 with the release of "Back On The Block." Years later, "Christmas in Hollis" by Run DMC was another breakthrough for me musically. Can't say that I'm hooked, but I'm certainly more tolerant now. What appealed to me about this project was it's fusion with one of my favorite genres, jazz.
Brass, Bows & Beats by Jazz Mafia is a lot more than a fusion with jazz. Funk, hip-hop, rap, electronica, and digital turntable all take the spotlight along with spoken-word, rhymes, and ballads that often evoke a feeling of improvisational jazz. Jazz Mafia performs in two incarnations: a forty-five piece touring group and a sixty-five piece collection of jazz virtuosos, top MCs, singers, arrangers, and composers who performed in 2009 to sold-out venues in San Francisco. They proudly boast that JM includes "….many of the Bay Area's most innovative and prolific musical forces." Those forces united for a live album at the "Palace of Fine Arts" in the City by the Bay which will be available for download or CD on June 8, 2010. The production quality was superlative! It sounds as if it was recorded in a studio.
After the introduction, "Darkness/Light" begins with a steady beat-driven sampling of what lies in store: spoken word, turntable work, seductive melodies, smooth voices, and thought-provoking lyrics. More voices and instruments join in near the end of the track to crescendo into the next two, "Sweet Memory" and "Sweet Memory Part2." Brass, woodwinds, and strings all contribute to the genre-defying experience. Many of the measures (including trombone and saxophone solos) remind me of another jazz fusion group from the 70's, "Blood, Sweat, and Tears" and, at least for me, their influence is appreciated. BS&T's cover of Billie Holiday's "God Bless the Child" is the singular recording that turned me onto jazz in the first place. Just as their combination of jazz with rock was ground breaking, I expect Brass, Bows & Beats to be similarly noticed and no doubt will be influential for years to come.
Track Five, "Community," is an eleven-minute piece with lots of great instrumental work and evokes memories of Doc Severinsen and "The Tonight Show" band! "Theme in F7" follows with an ear-catching blend of fast moving spoken word (rap?) with a message of inclusion, embracing, and a cry for unity. "Blea VS Tolling" is an instrumental masterpiece! A complicated arrangement including strings, brass, and precussion backed by a Latin rhythm takes listeners on a journey that includes a range of emotions and an irresistible desire to move. It's not salsa and it's not bluegrass but you could tango or clog to it! Amazing! Too bad this product isn't currently available as a DVD; it would be great to see this group in action. If "Blea VS Tolling" is the show-stopper, the finale, "At My Window," would be the encore. This last track is an absorbing display of the multitude of talent that is the Jazz Mafia.
Jazz Mafia's current tour, which includes performances at many of North America's best-known jazz festivals, began in April and will continue through October. For more information including dates visit their website: Jazzmafia.com.