Various Artists: Def Jazz

[15 November 2005]

By Robert R. Calder

According to what’s basically an essay on the Verve website, this CD is in effect a sm**th jazz celebration of the silver jubilee of hip-hop, which is said to have been demonstrated as no “passing fad,” but to have “arrived at a point of maturity that makes it possible to be appreciated in a whole new way: fused with jazz.”

The repertoire here is described as “all-star sm**th jazz interpretations of rap classics made famous by New York-based hip hop giant Def Jam Records,” a company founded in 1985. Given the jazz roots or ancestry of hip-hop, ‘fused’ isn’t quite the word. Jazz has often been coloured in some combinations with other music, for instance Cuban, which has in some cases deepened the music by rhythmic extension and intensification. Similarly, hip-hop has always owed a debt to jazz as much as funk. A third case has involved rather a lessening of jazz content, the production of half-jazz, more or less.

That’s the case with the danceable music discussed in this review as a case of jazz. Actually, the steady vamp of the opener “All I Need”, appealingly dark and moody, could be turned into something easily appealing as a jazz arrangement for acoustic instruments. Roy Hargrove shows real class on trumpet, with more dimensions than the accompaniment by committee—- this is a set with guests, planned music with a fixed supporting regime, not a true ‘various artists’ recording. You might as well say ‘various artists’ of any recording by a big band where nobody gets more than a pair of solos. Joey DeFrancesco is also impressive on Hammond B3 organ on this excellent opening number, which has a nice arranged ending after the penultimate stretch of rappish vocalese and DJ vinyl disc slipping.

There’s no more Hargrove, but the organist turns up again on the closer, which has a synthetic band filling out into biggish band sound an actual trumpet and the genuine saxophone on which Scott Mayo solos in a stock jazz-funk style over a steady beat.

No offence intended to Mr. Mayo in the remark, but Messrs. Hargrove and DeFrancesco are very obviously the real thing. There’s a freshness and passion beyond the efficiency of most other performers on this pop set. Dwight Sills is listed as playing ‘rhythm guitar’, and though not listed with the other soloists as being either a Verve recording artist (Hargrove) or a Concord one (DeFrancesco), et cetera, he does solo very well and show real jazz talent when in action here. Hubert Laws on his one performance shows class too, but his one guest spot lacks opportunity to do much more than blend well with the other music on the track. Audra Bryant sings well on “Doin’ It”, as does Ledisi on “The Rain”.

Jeff Lorber and Kevin Toney turn up a couple of times each on Wurlitzer and/ or Moog etc., Scott Mayo turns up on saxophone, Rick Braun on trumpet. None of them really has a chance to be better than efficient on this pleasant but inconsequential set of melodious funk-cum-fusion with solos on standard instruments, the occasional good vocal over very musical synthesizer, bass, electric bass, drum programming, and percussion. Lightweight and with mainly soothing propensities.

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