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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Us3/Kudos Records

Rating: 8/10 ?

May 24, 2005
There is a growing trend of jazz and hip-hop revivalism happening as we speak. From Mike Ladd's Negrophilia to the exciting records that Soul Jazz Records is putting out, this may become the year when it is again fun to merge two apparently unrelated languages, as opposed to last year's freak folk of Banhart and Six Organs of Admittance. Jazz and hip-hop have one thing in common to start with: it is hard to come up with a definition to describe both genres. When asked what jazz was, veteran musician Louis Armstrong had this to say: "If you still have to ask… shame on you."

Us3 is a soul meets jazz meets hip-hop (and everything in between) project, commissioned by London-based Geoff Wilkinson, and its first US album in seven years, the appropriately titled Questions, is no exception to that ongoing symbiosis of genres. Formed in 1992, Us3 had since relied on sampling jazz tracks and meshing them with beats and breaks from various origins as their basic hub of work, and in that Blue Note had always occupied a central stage - until they gathered enough material to release their third album, An Ordinary Day in an Unusual Place. Initially meant to be issued on Sony, you know how the story ends: legal issues led to a two-year delay and the record ended up being released in Europe and Japan in 2001 and available as import-only in the US.

Partially because of that, and, Wilkinson says, as they are now more fond of working with "live musicians rather than dead ones," Questions is their first sample-free record. This is to a great result, judging from the first track, "A New Beginning", an instrumental two-minute take on ambient sounds to help digest the eclectic cauldron ahead. When the piano erupts from the trumpet-led track that is "Watcha Gonna Do?", anticipating the soft and warm voice of South African Mpho, you know that you are holding a soothing album to accompany you throughout the year.

Its soul-searching kick is what gives this record enough ambience to delve into late-night, sax-driven tepid waters where romance can truly emerge. Reggi Wyns, just another affiliate of Us3's rotating vocalists, first appears when "What Does That Mean?" comes to a start. Wyns is what I like to call a rap crooner, coming all the way from Brooklyn to embellish this distinctive melting pot. Also a distinguished actor, having appeared in Serendipity and Law and Order, Wyns has also recorded with New York crew LIB and is the break beat counterpart to the nu soul-influenced vocal work of Mpho.

The mash up between the two and other guests is perfect. The music never gets boring because they know how to cleverly mix styles, topping a new form of bastardized pop that has everything to evolve and influence. Latin and drum 'n' bass elements resonate throughout the tracks like a sharpened blade cutting through butter. "Why Not?" is so strongly-rooted in a studio-like performance, with all Wyns' rap manners intertwined with the flutes, that the Us3 themselves would struggle to out-trump it when performing live, especially with a different line-up.

Some tracks here are assumedly cut from the same cloth, "Cantaloop 2004: Soul Mix" and its bossa mix equivalent (check out us3.com for an animated video of the former) being the most notorious examples, but the album rarely concedes to its stylistic parameters, instead expanding from those hot spots. The best parts come with the faint chalk sketching of "Give Thanks" and "The Healer." There is indeed an unfinished sympathy about them, as Massive Attack would state. Although there is nothing here likely to significantly challenge our perspective on nu-jazz, Questions represents all that is done well when mixing diverse styles.

Reviewed by Helder Gomes
Currently living on the south bank of the Tagus river, in Portugal, Helder Gomes is a working class hero. He is a journalist for the local radio station Rádio Nova Anten. In his spare time, he skates and watches many odd movies. He is in love with the French nouvelle vague, and the Danish/Swedish invasion. He writes for a number of publications, on the Internet or otherwise, notably the underground Portuguese magazine Mondo Bizarre, and the Jazz Review website. He is also the news collector and a staff witer for the adorable Lost at Sea. Oh, and there is also the Coffee Breakz radio show that he tries to host every Saturday.

See other reviews by Helder Gomes



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