By Courtnay Scott
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet possesses a singularly individual sound setting them apart from just about all of their contemporaries. It's a resonance clearly built on a strong foundation of jazz, but also funk and hip-hop. The ST7 hold court where punk meets experimental jazz and hard-bop takes on a breezy, clever attitude. Original compositions from all members are put forth with style, passion, and wit. Hypnotic, honeyed arrangements emerge from flagrantly angular, almost subversive beginnings. New Orleans' horn stylings morph into grand, Mancini-esque Pink Panther grooves urged on by the boom-snap-tick of hip-hop drums. Music journalist Milo Miles noted that funk and hip-hop are the foundation for the contemporary jazz movement that gospel and blues used to be. Nowhere is that more evident than on the Septet's newly released Husky (Hyena), on which there's a lot of musical and historical information being delivered. The Septet's sound is comprised of propulsive drums, meaty Hammond bass lines, and five first-rate horns that seem to transcend their influences, resulting in a unique and intoxicating sound.
Funk music, almost more so than jazz, is a remarkable historically, emotionally, and politically charged music. It is a call to action, and for that reason it has experienced a generational resurgence, a renewed relevance, which jazz has not. The founding funk fathers, James Brown and George Clinton, created an experience, an ideology, dropping soul-spiked and psychedelic funk bombs, respectively, on generations of people ready to challenge the status quo. Funk was manifested as faith, a sociological reaction to political and cultural phenomena; George Clinton reasoned, "Funk is its own reward... We take the heaviness out of being profound." These gentlemen gave funk merit, synthesizing the influence of all previous black music with a view of global unity into a cogent, elemental message - simply to tell it like it is. And on tracks like "Go to Hell, Mr. Bush," the Septet carries on the tradition, implying that creativity and artistry in the face of conservatism are the best antidotes. Indeed, tenor saxophonist Skerik says the band finds inspiration in the decline of jazz and the opportunity to make something new from something more traditional. A while back, drummer John Wicks told me that Husky is one of the things he's done that he is the most proud of, and rightfully so. The album is a testament to transcendence and the power of music to challenge and change an idea whose time has passed.
In addition to the idea of generating something new from something old, part of the lure of the ST7 is the unique experience of five aptly-described "syncopated" wind instruments with a fluid groove. Like James Brown's JB horns, the Septet is tight and refined with each member knowing his role. They're musicians who, in this set-up, read sheet music and concentrate on savory arrangements and orchestrations. They function as a single, subtle, mellifluous unit; then, like a flash flood, a mercurial temperament sends them into dense squall for a matter of measures only to quickly resume a groove identified by its slippery cadence. This phenomenon is shrewdly demonstrated on the high-stepping "Syncopate the Taint" and "Fry His Ass." This hybridized sound is representative of the collective-like nature of its seven members; trumpet player Dave Carter joins saxophone mavericks Skerik, Craig Flory, Steve Moore, and flautist Hans Teuber to form a formidable wind phalanx. Joe Doria's supa-low, liquidy B3 lines are subtle yet powerful, and drummer John Wicks shines while delivering multi-genre substratum.
Since their almost fortuitous, organic inception about four years ago, the ST7's penchant for deliberately blurring the line between consonance and dissonance has mellowed. Husky is slick and rollicking at the same time. And still it's true that the Septet is not completely polished, indeed Husky is the result of only one day in Los Angeles' Sound Factory studio, and many of the tracks are first takes. The album's opening track, "The Third Rail," emerges confidently from silence and takes no time getting down to business. By the end of the tenth and final track, "Daddy Won't Taint Bye-Bye," the Septet has demonstrated a near-mastery, but also a love of the material.
Husky is somehow more benevolent and less abrasive than its self-titled predecessor released in 2003 on Ropeadope Records. For those used to enjoying Skerik with distortion and sonics, this album alludes to more depth, although there is some of the darker stuff too. The album has an ease and warmth to it - the result of being recorded on two-inch, analog tape, rather than digitally. Says Skerik, "We paid as much attention to where [Husky] was recorded and how it was recorded as anything else in the process. The recording has as much intention as the music itself." Recorded music is more authentic with some pulp and seeds because that's where the stuff that's good for you resides. And so The Syncopated Taint Septet's Husky is not only a testament to the professional prowess of the musicians, but also to the production process. Most importantly though, it is an affirmation that jazz has found a new outlet, augmented by more contemporary music with a positive mentality about the future.
Supporting the release of Husky, which is available at www.hyenarecords.com, the Septet will embark on a short West Coast tour in August 2006 with East Coast and Midwest dates in the Fall. Go out and get yo'self some Taint!
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