Crossing genres isn't the pioneering step it used to be, what with such culture shocks surrounding us as Shania Twain covering AC/DC's "You Shook me All Night Long" (no, not the Willie Dixon minor masterpiece, oh well), but ulu have an interesting premise: revisiting the Jazz/R&B mix that was perfected by Donald Byrd and Herbie Hancock in the 1970s/'80s. Sometimes it works really well here, as in saxophonist Aaron Gardner's "Spare Tissue," which contains some fine rattly drumming and a long ring-modulated electric piano break from Scott Chasolen. Recalls Don Preston in the first edition of Zappa's Mothers of Invention. And bassist Brian Killeen has a nice synthesized-tuba sound on his amplified instrument. But I think the fellows need some help on the songwriting front. Harmonized is somewhat known for its jam-band roster but NERVE is mostly actual songs with beginnings, middles and ends (sometimes pretty catchy)... but the jammy bits suffer, on and off, from the usually deft Josh Dion moving into simple time-keeper drumming and too much time spent on the riff but not a lot more. Normally this would be enough if the riffs were real pulverizers like, say, Herbie Hancock's "Hang Up Your Hang-Ups," but these are more straight James Brown. Who is funky but that's not the kind of funk ulu needs. A certain cosmic juice is required, and only much gigging and more time at the drawing board will give one that. Certainly Gardner's well-rounded sax tone and solid flow of ideas (see "Shady Lady") stand this band in good stead, and Chasolen's attitude speaks volumes on the Fender Rhodes. Speaking of speaking, he gets doubvle points for a rap my 40-ish ears could understand during "Give Yourself Away." And let's not forget the quartet's audacity at a thorough reimagining of David Bowie's "Space Oddity." I had to check twice to see whose name was on the credits.
So this is pretty good but ulu will do a better CD next time. Out on the road, guys, and you'll be unstoppable.
by Kenneth Egbert
Copyright Jazz Now, April 2004 issue, all rights reserved
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