If hip-hop has taught the world anything, it's that an old sound or sample can be either a thrill-ride or a dull copy. Whether the experiment is a hit or miss, it's usually interesting to listen to, just to get an idea of the artists' vision. Indian Summer is in a zone of it's own, one that King Kooba calls nu-jazz -- a genre less dependent on updating dull jazz standards than blending electronica, jazz, R&B and a few hip-hop beats. The idea is exciting, in theory. The application of it leaves a little to be desired on King Kooba's Indian Summer, an album that meshes some forms with expertise and leaves other yearning for a solid form.
The deviation from strict electronica rhythms into a fusion of R&B and house makes the fourth album from this UK duo a worthy musical journey. While Charlie Tate and Matt "DJ Shuff" Harris have been producing together for eight years, they formed the group over a pint of beer in London and seem to apply the same good-time vibes to their efforts. Their funk leanings combine bass-playing alongside acts like Neneh Cherry and James Brown, but there is only a slight influence from these guests on Indian Summer . The contributions to the project include some heralded talent -- from Roots Manuva to Soulstice's Gina Rene -- and while those names usually generate enough heat to make experimental music stick, some of it evaporates like sweat here.
King Kooba is most effective and affecting on the funky "Blue Mosque", an exotic, percussion-heavy standout that settles into the atmosphere as seductively as an Arabian night, thanks to a spare and delicate vocal. This song's hypnotic quality is leveled by the bass, which is thick enough to make anyone sweat in the winter and makes this the best song on the album. "Public Service" is another good composition, with two people conversing over a thumping bass line that first blends into a more traditional saxophone and piano jam, then slips back to pulsing drums. Likewise, "You Don't Know" is also a nod-worthy song.
Much of the album, though, lags in electronica purgatory, somewhere between sound-moshing and drum and bass jams. "Honey Locust" is glorified background music while "Losing You" provides a less than stellar vocal arrangement that would bore R&B fans to tears. The title track is a house-leaning and free-floating enterprise. It has the potential to be a house favorite and it is a slow, peaceful burn.
"If I Could" features more lyrical cliches than I care to mention and a lackluster performance of a song about a relationship in transition: "We've got nothing left / One time what we had / That was the best / I've had enough." The music is predictable, and sounds more like an unfinished Brand New Heavies track than a nu-jazz production. That lack of innovation also infects "Barefoot", featuring Roots Manuva, a free-wheeling hip-hop ode that is delivered a bit like a chanting Ol' Dirty Bastard which is a precursor to a sad descent into the album's mediocrity.
King Kooba's Indian Summer is almost an apt title for this album. The loose abandon of a sweaty heat wave hovers just above many of these tracks -- they can be danced to, they're good company for a glass of wine or a house full of friends over for spirits and cheese puffs. Aside from the aural nirvana that a few songs reach, the album feels a lot more like the awkward but beautiful aspirations of Spring.