Against the Death Machine
It’s the pleasant surprises that wake us up some days. When I put Lettuce’s Rage! into my CD player, I braced myself and walked towards my kitchen expecting to hear some sort of angry vegan tirade. Thank God for small miracles and the holy number 7! With Rage! the seven artists in Lettuce raise the dead and uplift the living. This funk jazz collective dedicates its work to the memories of James Brown and James Yancey (J Dilla) who both died in 2006.
Lettuce, who got its name not from the most boring part of salad but from the persistant request to just let us play at underground jazz clubs all over Boston, is a movement with a history. The members met at a summer camp for music geeks, and found each other again in college at the Berklee School of Music. The faith that this crew has in their purpose, and in each other, comes through even in the recorded format. This effort of loving is what they call “our way of life.”
The bandmates are live, even when they are not, which is the perfect answer to the death they rage against in this project. Lettuce’s rendition of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up” leads with an exuberant drumbeat that invokes all of the collective energy it takes to call an oppressed group of people to “move on up to a greater day with just a little faith.” The harmonizing on the track and the strings in the background make it sound like the effort is pleasantly haunted by kindred spirits who agree that the energy of decades past is necessary in the present pursuit of unlikely joy.
The most experimental track on the album is “Dizzer”, acting as a resurrecting counterpart to the “The Last Suppit” which it follows, “Dizzer” allows the keyboard to invent new sounds while working over the voices of alien, or ghostly participants. So when they follow “Dizzer” with “Makin’ My Way Back Home”, the horns sound like they are breaking the doors to heaven open and inviting everyone out to dance. The “Chocolate City” they refer to is more cosmic and fantastic than the nation’s capital has every been.
This album is a party where James Brown, Sly Stone, Herbie Hancock, Earth Wind and Fire, Parliament Funkadelics and the Meters are all jamming along in spirit. And revival breeds survival. Bringing back Charles Wright’s “Express Yourself” the band teaches us how to rock forward to the rhythm of grit and virtuosity before showing us how to “Relax” on the breakaway track that makes me want to choreograph my first dance.
With a teasing dialogue between the saxaphones and the keyboard, “Relax” combines, jazz, funk and reggae with a refrain that moves through your shoulders, soothing through the chest into a swing of the hips that comes almost involuntarily. Even the way we relax is “moving” which adds to Lettuce’s effective refusal of death.
Finally, the bonus track “Mr. Yancey”, reminds us of the spirit of the greatest composer of our time. Emphasizing the bass drum and keyboards, this track walks beside the great J Dilla and fades out towards memory.
See this band live. Add this CD into your process of waking up. Eat your vegetables. Stay alive, by every means necessary.
// Notes from the Road
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