Jazz CD Reviews
Joe Blessett – Chillin Out in Dark Places – Joe Blessett Music
Published on October 3, 2011
Joe Blessett – Chillin Out in Dark Places – Joe Blessett Music DAS 00010, 46:30 ***1/2:
(Joe Blessett – engineer, executive producer, alto and tenor saxophone, bass, piano, trumpet, trombone, guitar, vocals, Fender Rhodes piano, Hammond organ, synthesizer, drums, samples, electronic drums)
Joe Blessett may not be the future of jazz but with his fifth outing, the fittingly titled Chillin Out in Dark Places, Blessett exhibits a side of jazz which complements the smart phone generation which does not care much for genres but does like genre-splicing. Blessett’s music won’t be heard any time soon in live settings because Chillin Out in Dark Places is the product of a laptop bedroom (or basement) musician who plays all of the instruments, mixes and engineers the results and uses modern technology to create an amalgam of soul, gospel, jazz, electronica and more. This is not fusion, it’s nu-jazz, the umbrella term which surfaced a decade ago to categorize the blend of dance music, jazz elements, funk and other styles into a youthful merger.
This is not music which appeals to traditional jazz fans but rather those, like Blessett, who got introduced to jazz via trailblazing releases like Miles Davis’ Doo-Bop, which Blessett acknowledges as an early inspiration. Like that Davis project and the artists who followed Davis’ lead, Blessett combines acoustic instruments such as horns with plenty of digital processes like treated vocals, samples, synthesizers and electronic drums. An example is the hip-hop influenced “Slayers and Players,” led by a repetitive, off-the-beat guitar/keyboard pattern which is erratically affecting and foreboding, with granular sax splashes and modified, panned voices which saunter through the urbanized mix.
The socially-conscious “Better Days” opens with moody keyboards and alto sax and then Blessett layers in a keen groove featuring sampled drum rhythms, a funky Fender Rhodes (or a digital approximation) and synthesized strings. Blessett’s soulful sax provides a bluesy enthusiasm which achieves a genuinely engaging balance.
Sometimes the electronic components overtake the arrangements (“What’s Your Secret” is a bland, sexually-slanted track with little imagination and overused bedroom moans) but when Blessett puts the jazz up front, the outcome is improved, such as during “Morning After,” centered by a firm cymbal beat, a synthesized female vocal choir, coolly muted trumpet and trombone, and a repeating but animated arrangement. Equally accomplished is “Friends, Wine & Good Times,” where Davis is clearly Bessett’s muse, and has grooving bass, Wes Montgomery-esque guitar, and a feminine chorus which snakes in and out of the mix, along with spacy synth undercurrents and a Davis-like trumpet. It’s the one cut which concludes too soon on a quick fade out. Closer “Honey Hush Café” is also a standout, a relatively straight-ahead and straightforward fusion jazz number which brings Blessett’s album to a satisfactory end.
It would be easy to dismiss Blessett as someone who flirts with jazz and throw him into the stew known as acid jazz or reject his creativity as electronica disguised as jazz. That would be a disservice, though, since Blessett obviously infuses many musical modes into his grander design, and the upshot is that this type of genre-bending not only attracts non-jazz listeners to jazz (as Davis did in the wake of In a Silent Way and again with Doo-Bop) but also makes the point that jazz can be whatever a person wants it to be.
1. Chillin Out in Dark Places
2. Tell Me Something
3. Help Me Pray
4. Better Days
5. Slayers and Players
6. What’s Your Secret
7. Deep Dish Grind
8. Morning After
9. Taking a Pause
10. Friends, Wine & Good Times
11. Scotch & Water Please
12. Dark Places
13. Honey Hush Café