Jazz CD Reviews

Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows, and Beats – a hip-hop symphony by ADAM THEIS – Jazz Mafia

All over the map…in a good way.

Published on October 10, 2010

Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows, and Beats – a hip-hop symphony by ADAM THEIS – Jazz Mafia

Jazz Mafia – Brass, Bows, and Beats – a hip-hop symphony by ADAM THEIS  (Live from Palace of Fine Arts San Francisco 04/18/09) – Avail. thru http://www.jazzmafia.com/buy, and iTunes – 62:58 – ****½:

(60-piece ensemble featuring full string section, horns, percussion, keyboards, electronic effects, lead singers, and soulful back-up chorus)

Defying characterization, Jazz Mafia’s Brass, Bows, and Beats was a highlight of the opening night this year at the Monterey Jazz Festival. I was so impressed that I requested a CD of their earlier performance of their masterwork in San Francisco in 2009. This was a musical experience that must be shared with the jazz community outside of the Bay Area. For economic reasons, it would be hard to take this mega-group on the road, so it may be through video and CD performance that the power and the uniqueness of this group can be shared. (However, 2010 did bring trips to the following jazz festivals: Newport, Montreal, and the Playboy Jazz Festival.)

For those that need some kind of description to describe what Adam Theis’ Jazz Mafia is tackling in bringing their unique vision to the public, if you imagine Sun Ra morphing into Sly and the Family Stone, with jazz horns, funk, electronic effects, hip-hop and backed by a soulful aggregation of background singers, then you begin to get even a rough idea about what they are putting down. In Monterey, they played more than 90 minutes in front of diverse crowd of mainstream jazz fans coupled with an enthusiastic young fans whose jazz creds may not go beyond Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Mad Lib, and the Bad Plus. For each of these demographics, their needs were met judged by their response to the Jazz Mafia.

Brass, Bows, and Beats was not a free-form sloppy shoot-from-the-hip presentation. Developed over the course of a year with a $50,000 grant from two foundations, it embraces jazz themes but delves into rap commentary, stirring string sections, a tight horn section, and back-up singers that personified soul. Latin polyrhythms, exquisite ballad sections, hot solos, and hip-hop rhymes co-existed and led to a take-no-prisoners musical experience where the music continued to flow and fascinate at the same time. Having up to 60 members, the sheer volume and polish of Theis’ vision becomes apparent.

Highlights were numerous but a few stand out to me. Those were the two part “Sweet Memory” that included spoken recorded word sections, as well as the metaphysical stream of consciousness found in “Darkness/Light.”

The music and themes would build up to crescendos before sublime string and horn sections would step in. It was a sort of tension and release that was very satisfying. Most any discerning listener could find something that met their fascination.

Catching the Brass, Bows, and Beats presentation this year in Monterey was among the most pleasant surprises at the festival. Now it is time for the rest of the country to experience the Jazz Mafia’s unique vision.

TrackList: Intro, Darkness/Light, Sweet Memory, Sweet Memory Part 2, Community 2.0, Theme in F7, Blea vs. Tolling, At My Window (Finale).

- Jeff Krow








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