It’s fun to watch disasters. It’s fun to see country and rap hook up to form “crap”, notably in the form of such artists like Cowboy Troy and songs like “Over and Over” by Nelly and Tim McGraw. This, and countless other combinations (opera and new age, anyone?) have been the hilarious tourist traps of the pop-music landscape. Yet every once in awhile, something just clicks. Rock and rap were born to be mixed up together. The countless amount of amateur mashups that go up every day seem to tell us that genre doesn’t matter—it’s just a matter of knowing what works and what doesn’t.
Flash forward to right now. Techno and jazz have been having an odd and surprisingly strong courtship as of late. Verve opened up its vault to techno remixers for its Mixed/Unmixed series, scoring massive hits like Felix Da Housecat’s reworking of Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman”, bringing a classic jazz vocalist to the dancefloor while still making something groovy. 2004’s excellent Bird Up compilation had artists as diverse as hip-hop producer El-P, System of a Down frontman Serj Tankian, and the Kronos Quartet deliver fun and drastic reworkings of Charlie Parker songs. All of a sudden, the idea of jazz trumpets bumping next to dancefloor basslines didn’t seem so outrageous or blasphemous. Much joy abound.
It was inevitable that, eventually, the gap between classic jazz samples and the drum machine would close, and with Bent Fabric, it has. Original jazz songs and piano given blacklight-pump, ultimately sounding as if Fatboy Slim dropped the rock samples to take on happy jazz ditties, but retaining the same essential sound. Opener “Bam Boogie” is essentially a drum-driven party jam with some keyboard over it, sounding a lot like the similarly-themed Geggy Tah jazz/dance side-project Action Figure Party. Though “Boogie” is ultimately forgettable, it’s the obvious single and title-track to this Jukebox LP that carries a bit of infectious energy to it, accomplishing just its goals and nothing more: to be fun and danceable. “Shake” proves to be nothing more than a rewrite of the first two tracks, and it’s obvious that the exceptions to the dance-jazz rule prove to be more interesting than the floor-burners themselves.
The very Frou Frou-ish “Just Be There for Me”, with scratchy bass and pleasant vocal performance by Nellie Ettison, proves to be one of the best tracks on the album. Even “Alley Cat”, Bent Fabric’s one stab at true jazz legitimacy with a simple repeatable piano lick, sounds better than all the drum-and-snare bombast that carries away some of the other tracks. When the jazz dominates the drums, like in the excellent instrumental “Blowout”, one feels that this is more than just fun background music (the same could be said for the throwback pop of “Everytime”—a song that could have been a ‘70s R&B hit if not for the modern production).
Is there room to grow? Certainly. Are there serious moments that drag the album down? Nowhere in sight. Though the four remixes included at the end are worthless, ultimately Bent Fabric has crafted a fine debut and a welcome breath to the emerging dance-jazz genre. It’s not perfect, but when you find yourself dancing without even realizing it, it doesn’t need to be.
Bent Fabric - Jukebox