Dinner Party: Dinner Party (Sounds of Crenshaw/Empire) Review | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, September 22nd, 2020  

Dinner Party

Dinner Party

Sounds of Crenshaw/Empire

Jul 10, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The phrase supergroup tends to get thrown around a lot in reference to any collaborative project. In the case of Dinner Party however, the hyperbolic moniker might just be accurate. Terrace Martin, Kamasi Washington, Robert Glasper, and 9th Wonder are all on the forefront of the blurred boundaries between jazz, soul, and hip-hop. Unsurprisingly, that is exactly the direction of the group’s debut album, drawing from classic soul and jazz sounds but rooted in aesthetic elements from hip-hop.

From the first track onward, the group displays an easy chemistry. Though this may be the first album the group has recorded as a band, they draw from years of connections as collaborators. Washington and Martin went to the same high school, Martin and Glasper both played in R+R Now, Terrace, Robert, and Washington all played on Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, and the list goes on. It brings an effortless quality to the improvisation on the record, a tone befitting the titular dinner party. While the performances here are rich and soulful, the laid-back energy keeps the mood light.

The songwriting comes from a natural, collaborative flow, with the band laying down a chill groove that the members then improvise over. This formula works quite well on “Sleepless Nights” and “Freeze Tag.” Both display a classic soul atmosphere and emotive vocals courtesy of Chicago singer Phoelix. Similarly, the instrumentals “First Responders” and “The Mighty Tree” are excellent showcases for the band’s talents, showing off the meeting point of the instrumentalists’ stirring jazz style and 9th Wonder’s classic beats. While easygoing, they have a lot of depth on repeat listens. Aside from the robotic vocoder vocals on “LUV U”—which clash unflatteringly with the instrumental—the group’s marriage of R&B, soul, jazz, and hip-hop works beautifully.

Yet, despite the strength of the group instrumentally, the substance of the album feels light. At 23 minutes it is unfortunately brief and, aside from “Freeze Tag,” generally lacking in much noteworthy lyrical insight. The blunt lyrics of “Freeze Tag” are one of the strongest aspects of the track, putting it in the same vein as soul classics such as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” It balances the track’s bright instrumental tone, bolstered by the summery keys and chimes, with a mournful quality befitting the lyrics, which reflect on the raw experience of police brutality. It is disappointing that the group doesn’t attempt that critique elsewhere on the record. While the album is welcoming and easygoing, in some respects it leaves the listener wishing for more.

Overall though, that desire for more from the project is a testament to the quality on Dinner Party. The unassuming style masks some beautiful performances that fans of this intersection of styles will surely find rewarding. Even when the record leaves listeners wishing for just a bit more, it is hard to be that disappointed by an album filled with lush performances from some of the best musicians in their genre. (www.soundsofcrenshaw.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 6/10


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