Hagans / Belden: Re-Animation: Live In Montreal

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By Ben Varkentine

The trouble with drum’n'bass as a fertile grounding for jazz is that it is, almost by definition, one of the least-soulful styles around. It pushes forward at breakneck speed and would never deign to stop for something as un-cool as a groove. Melding that with chord-following soloists, too often the result sounds like two different bands playing at the same time. Miles Davis could, especially live, fuse funk and jazz, and he might have been able to get something out of this style too—I wouldn’t have bet against him. But, y’know, he was Miles Davis. Branford Marsalis’s second Buckshot Lefonque CD got a good jungle take on jazz in “Jungle Grove”, but I suspect Marsalis knew it couldn’t carry an entire album, that sound, and only devoted one track to it for that reason.

The drum’n'bass-influenced jazz project of trumpeter Tim Hagans and producer/saxophonist Bob Belden is here recorded live at the 1999 Montreal Jazz Festival. Similar (though superior) to Eric Truffaz’s The Mask collection of earlier this year, Hagans and Belden attempt to put a new engine in an old car by putting their traditional jazz instruments over music driven by synthesizers, samples and turntables. Now, constant readers will be aware that I am hardly a traditionalist when it comes to jazz styles. I think part of what keeps jazz largely unsought except for a cult audience is the perception that it belongs in the museums and not out on the winds. But that’s my head, and between what my head appreciates and that to which my heart reacts, there’s a big difference. I appreciate anyone who is trying to do things in a different way, but my heart reacts to those who, like Davis and Marsalis above or, more recently, Tommy Smith and Michael Wolff, can find the new ways without losing the essential value of the old.

The fusion here has produced something not unlike the result of a man—let’s say representing jazz—mated in a telepod with a fly, let’s say representing drum’n'bass. The best parts of the former are eventually overcome by the worst of the latter—Be afraid. Be very afraid. The spacey keyboards, synths and samples are overwhelmed by the rhythms, and as indicated earlier, the rhythms do not seem to me to lend life to the proceedings. Belden, according to the All Music Guide, works hard on turning “nonjazz material into jazz”. I wish he worked as hard at playing his instrument, his sax playing is unremarkable. Hagans seems better to me, but too much in Miles’ shadow—not that that’s an easy thing to get out from under, especially for a trumpet player.

Their band is fine, with keyboardist Scott Kinsey and DJ Kingsize coming off better than the rhythm section of David Dyson on bass and Billy Kilson on drums. The latter have the undesirable position of playing with samples instead of each other a third of the time, and sometimes seem to have trouble keeping up, especially on the 11-minute “Hud Doyle”.

I am reminded of a road paved with good intentions, and the eternal wise-guy question: But is it art?

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/hagans-reanimation/