Bassist Brad Jones cut his teeth in jazz monster The Jazz Passengers. With a reputation for insane chops and skillful cross-genre song writing (he’s penned joints for Madonna and worked with Deborah Harry and Elvis Costello) Jones made the jump from band member to band leader. Assembling a crew of New York session bad asses, he’s delved into his love for Motown and funk. The result is pure cross-over, a Cuisinart of funk, jazz, pop and adult contemporary. There’s enough arty noise here to keep jazzbos glued to their audiophile gear and enough pop sensibility to win over entry-level newcomers. The strongest stuff is the funky James Brown-influenced bass and drum romps. Sounding like they could’ve come from a Martin, Modeski and Wood album, Jones (bass) and Abe Fogle (drums) bring the funk with enough slop and stink to make you believe it isn’t all about the chops. Bob Debellis (sax) is equal parts Ornette Coleman and Maceo Parker—brilliant and convincing.
For my ear, the rap tunes struggle for credibility, more commercial beat poetry than the real shit. But that’s always the tradeoff you make with fusion—intensity and authenticity for chops and structural perfection. I’ll take Jones’ instrumental offerings (Dave Gilmore’s shredding guitar on “Are We Having Yet?” is terrifying) over the vocal stuff just for that reason. Intensity and conviction get traded too often for technically correct vocal performances. Jazz speaks best when it speaks for itself. And it isn’t Jones or his crack band’s fault, it’s a genre-specific weakness.
Vocal limitations aside, Uncivilized Poise is more fun than jazz usually allows itself to have. The playing is first rate and the production is tight and unobtrusive. I’m even willing to bet the lyrical shit that fails on tape comes off live with shine and style. If listenability is your bottom line for fusion, this is your record.
Standout Tracks: “Black Bread,” “3 Guesses,” “Are We Having Fun Yet?”
// Notes from the Road
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