Music

Guru: Best of Guru's Jazzmatazz

Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Guru gives us one idea at a time, like he's walking next to Big Bird, and Snuffleupagus is on next. Hip-hop for beginners.


Guru

Best of Guru's Jazzmatazz

Label: Virgin
US Release Date: 2008-02-12
UK Release Date: 2008-02-11
Amazon
iTunes

The first thing I thought of, back in college when I heard Guru rhyme, was Sesame Street. His deliberate, slow pace and his dependable tendency to breathe between each metaphor seemed pedestrian, especially alongside rapid fire emcees like Andre 3000 and Eminem who seemed to pride themselves on cramming infinite messages into each set of bars with the breath control of deep-sea divers. Guru, on the other hand, gives us one idea at a time, like he's walking next to Big Bird, and Snuffleupagus is on next. Hip-hop for beginners.

Back then when I shared my opinion that Guru's sound was "basic" and not particularly exciting to me, a schoolmate took it upon himself to school me. Guru, he explained, is not basic, he's foundational. Thus the name Guru; he spits it slow so we get it. He is teaching us something.

The Best of Guru's Jazzmatazz is indeed a lesson. An amalgamation of tracks from Guru's ongoing project to place hip-hop in a direct lineage with jazz, the Jazzmatazz project goes beyond sampling jazz to actually creating hip hop with jazz and soul musicians. Guru is emphasizing the dynamism of in-person collaboration, not just post-production synesthesia. This idea of connection via music comes through most strongly when, after the track "Loungin'" with Donald Byrd, we hear both Guru and Byrd respectively explaining how hip-hop and jazz are historically situated art forms, through which they struggle to create something out of nothing. The gravel in Byrd's voice, and the urgency in Guru's suddenly youthful and insistent cadence, belies the context of the song. Music is not about "loungin'" for either of these men, rather it is the work of making another world visible.

Unfortunately, the other lesson that this "Best of" album teaches us is that compelling ideas don't guarantee inspiring musical performances. While fans of Kelis, the Roots, Erykah Badu, Bahamadia and Jill Scott may need the tracks they feature on this album to make their mixtapes complete, Guru's voice seems disconnected from the faster paced stylings of his partners on each track. "Plenty", featuring Erykah Badu, is the best example of actually improvisatory chemistry, but "best" actually doesn't say much on this album.

There are internet rumblings that the tracks on this CD don't represent what Guru actually thought of as the "best" tracks that came out of the Jazzmatazz process, and that this was merely an attempt by the label to squeeze a few more sales out of what proved to be a less than lucrative musical adventure. Either way, we can learn two lessons from this project: 1) The relationship between hip-hop and jazz can generate new approaches to music making; 2) A brilliant approach doesn't always produce beautiful music.

5

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Long eclipsed by the works of many country contemporaries, Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge's first album, Full Moon, gets a new look.

Why is it that 1973 albums by Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson have become classic country staples (see: Jennings' rough-hewed landmark Honky Tonk Heroes and Nelson's before-its-time Shotgun Willie), while Kris Kristofferson and Rita Coolidge's duo debut from that same year has been relatively overlooked?

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image