The Urban Renewal Project (URP), Los Angeles-based big band is set to release its first full length album, Go Big or Go Home, September 18, 2012. And believe me, if you’re into dynamite horns laid over funky bass and rippling vocals spiced with rap, you want to rush out and get your copy. Hell, if you’re into fantastic music, you’ll want this album.
URP is a 12 piece band led by tenor sax man R.W. Enoch, Jr. who also composed seven of the album’s nine tracks and arranged the whole disc. The band’s vocalist is Kenny Neely, who, perhaps to demonstrate that he is not your run of the mill band singer, appears in the liner photos sans pants. He is joined on six tracks by rapper, Logic the Topic. The band itself includes alto (Alex Myers), soprano (Brian Clements), and baritone (Matt Ballard) saxes along with Enoch’s tenor, three trumpets (Max O’Leary and Eliot Deutsch, Jeff Collins and Vinny Dawson split the tracks) two trombones (Ryan Dragon and Lemar Guillary) and a bass trombone (Michael King).There is also some doubling on flute, piccolo, and flugelhorn. Michael McFadden plays electric bass and Scott Spongberg is on drums and percussion. I mention them all because their steller work deserves to be recognized. These guys are players.
According to the liner notes, they recorded all together except for the vocals in one room with limited editing and not a synthesizer in sight. When you hear the results you have to wonder why more bands don’t follow suit. There is an ensemble energy in their performance that too often gets lost in overproduction. It just goes to show there is still something to be said for the old ways of doing things.
“Night Gig” opens the album. It is a tune that has echoes of Steely Dan before Logic joins with Neely for a little rapping and then the band shows just what it means to be cool. It is a good indication of what is on tap, and a video is available on the net, so you can get a good idea of what the URP sound is like. “Transamerican” also has something of a Steely Dan vibe. “Rooftops & Parking Lots” is a kind of duet for Neely and Logic, until the band itself settles things down a bit and then joins in with a vocalese chorus. “Metro Girl” brings back the band’s cool side.
“Party Time” has a rocking beat and some nice work from Logic. Neely’s vocal is sweet against some swinging horns at the end. “What I Do” takes the opportunity to introduce the members of the band while it keeps the excitement going. The covers on the album are the Gorillaz’ “Feel Good, Inc,” which begins with a funky vibe and then brightens, and The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” URP makes the Pixies original sound kind of sleepy. The album ends ironically with “Don’t Let It End,” a song that would remind you of the big swing bands of the past if it weren’t for the reggae background.
Jazz, funk, pop? “We’re not really sure what it’s called,” the band says about their music in the liner notes. Me? I’m sure what it’s called. It’s called great.