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Matthew Ruddick

Author of Funny Valentine, an acclaimed new biography of the jazz trumpet player and singer, Chet Baker.
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Saturday, 23 September 2017 17:06

ElektroJazz - New York Tribute

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Funky New York love song heavy on the trombones proves to be a curate’s egg.

Full disclosure from this reviewer. I am not a fan of the trombone. This album is full of it.

Inevitably, this may shape my opinion of New York Tribute

It’s a perfectly good, rambunctious album targeting a hipster vibe. Trombone concerns notwithstanding I listened to it with an open mind and ear but it didn’t connect sufficiently strongly enough with me to want to seek out more of this band’s music.

It will do for others. If you’re a fan of the smoother end of hyphenated jazz (soul-jazz, jazz funk, electro-jazz etc.) and would seek out a sound that offers a nod to the UK’s Jamiroquai and Omar and the early 90s acid-jazz explosion, then this may well be worth you checking out. 

ElektroJazz is the creation of Danish trombone player Anders Larson, who is a musical alchemist, seeking to transmute different sounds into musical gold. The band comprises Larson with Anders Rose (Fender Rhodes/Electric Piano), Matthias Petri (Electric Bass) and Andreas Svendsen (Drums/Percussion) and together, there’s a certain James Taylor Quartet bravura to their output, which offers groove by the bucketload.

When an album’s press release describes it as an “eclectic mix” of sounds - in this case soul, R&B, instrumental groove jazz, spoken work and beat-boxing - you know you’re definitely in Kind of Jazz territory. While this album - a musical tribute to New York City - does dock occasionally with the jazz mothership, its captain is set on exploring many other musical star systems.

Now, eclecticism has merit as an approach: the believe that if you assemble different pieces, or influences, of sufficient quality, they will ‘go together’ as it were and make a brand new, better whole. 

This album has so many ingredients and influences that it’s rather like an over-spiced cake: each additional musical ingredient thrown into the pot increases the yield and guarantees more slices, but doesn’t necessarily mean a tastier treat.

Opener Shine, featuring vocalist Michael Stephenson, would not be my choice of an opening track. At the silkier end of the soul jazz spectrum, it’s a serviceable song but a muted way to open an album. The press release says it is the band’s "attempt to make a hit song.” Keep trying.

Things get going on track two East Village Blues, a peppy instrumental track with interesting 6/4 and 5/4 grooves which bring a little of the hipster New York scene to your speakers. At this point, I felt more optimistic about the album.

Imaginary Love and City of Lights follow next, both featuring Stephenson again, whose sound is reminiscent of Ben Cullum (Jamie’s brother),  impeccably polished and soulfully rich in taste, with Larson’s sweet-tasking trombone poured all over it like a caramel sauce on the stickiest of treacle puddings.

Subway Song, featuring Gonzalo Silva, is an inventive piece of ‘street’ music using the sounds of the New York Subway, even going so far as to use the train’s horn to substitute for a horns section. The song tells a story and has a late-night feel created by Rose’s sumptuous Fender Rhodes.

Track seven Midtown Madness is the most innovative track, starting as a cacophony of sounds from the band as they appear to imitate a stumbling New York subway street bum, before the groove opens out into something foot-tappingly good (with props to Petri’s lovely bass tone). This is the standout track. 

Wait a While, featuring Mr Read, is a warm-hearted hug from an NYC local. Harlem Flo features the ‘beat boxing’ of a local musician called JFlo. While it’s clever and unusual, it can be annoying.

As an album New York Tribute is certainly well put together and technically the musicianship is very competent. For this reviewer, it was the equivalent of a M&S sandwich: it filled a hole, it had all the right ingredients, but I felt like I needed something more substantial after it. 

But if the kind of jazz you like is at the smoother end of the spectrum, and you’re a sucker for velveteen voices and hip-hop sensibilities, this may well be your album.

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