Stefon Harris and Blackout: Urbanus (Concord) | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Stefon Harris and Blackout



Aug 28, 2009 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

A sense of anticipationas well as a healthy dollop of soul/jazz fusion as originally crafted by the masters and enhanced by their studentspervades Urbanus, waxed mere days before Barack Obama took the oath of office. Acoustic meets electric, go-go shakes hands with funk, the pot melteth over. We are urban; urban is us.

Even the mellower numbers thrum with a certain exuberance. “Langston’s Lullaby,” written for bandleader Harris’ newborn son, is positively exuberant in its sleepytime tempo, a celebration of new life commingling with the promise of cultural rebirth. Casey Benjamin’s alto sax clamors for brighter colors as the song builds toward contentment. “Blues for Denial” is a “blues” in name only, as Harris playfully chases notes up and down the vibes, pianist Marc Cary following suit.

Benjamin also pulls duty on vocoder, returning the machine to the jazz idiom after years of coloring hip-hop, pop, and electronica. Here he demonstrates what a thing of beauty the beast can be when powered by the right set of lungs. In this context, it’s amazingly similar to his other axe (alto sax): sexy, smooth, and slinky, a soft verbal stream as opposed to a series of aggressive metallic clacks and robo-pops. Benjamin pours sweet-nothings through it on “Christina,” a boudoir mood-lit by Harris’ martini vibes and the amorous gaze of Cary’s Fender Rhodes (some situations demand electric enhancement). The trio later returnCary massaging acoustic ivories this timeon the seductive “For You,” which Benjamin also recorded for Robert Glasper’s Double Booked.

Despite its deceptively cool demeanor (and what are vibes but cool’s exotic echo?), Urbanus is part of an exciting new swerve in jazz, a truly American art form that forever absorbs and learns, learns and absorbs, then paints its lessons with a striking beauty for all to enjoy. The conversation is ongoing, and it’s about time we listened. (

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