C Phineas - The Breakdown

C Phineas
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We don't do hip hop at SoulTracks. We do soul. So, why are we covering the debut album of a hip hop band ala The Roots? Because C Phineas is more than hip hop: it's jazz, it's socio-political spirituals, and it most certainly is enriched with the lifeblood of soul. With the youthful tones of Gym Class Heroes, the exuberant humor of the Beastie Boys, the serious social commentary of Little Brother, and the lushly elegant jazz of Roy, Joshua, Christian and James (Fans of 90s jazz will know exactly who I mean), C Phineas blends and remixes genres until there are no more classifications, only good-occasionally great-music.

The brainchild of producer/drummer/composer Chris Smith, C Phineas is, as they put it: Real Live Music. No slave to ProTools, C Phineas is a five-piece band with a sweet brass section whose shine is owed to Vito Chiavuzzo, Chris Slade and, especially, Sam Ryder.

We don't do hip hop at SoulTracks. We do soul. So, why are we covering the debut album of a hip hop band ala The Roots? Because C Phineas is more than hip hop: it's jazz, it's socio-political spirituals, and it most certainly is enriched with the lifeblood of soul. With the youthful tones of Gym Class Heroes, the exuberant humor of the Beastie Boys, the serious social commentary of Little Brother, and the lushly elegant jazz of Roy, Joshua, Christian and James (Fans of 90s jazz will know exactly who I mean), C Phineas blends and remixes genres until there are no more classifications, only good-occasionally great-music.

The brainchild of producer/drummer/composer Chris Smith, C Phineas is, as they put it: Real Live Music. No slave to ProTools, C Phineas is a five-piece band with a sweet brass section whose shine is owed to Vito Chiavuzzo, Chris Slade and, especially, Sam Ryder. Keyboardist Landon Knoblock and bassist Josh Paris are nothing to shake a stick at, rounding out a collective of committed talents. These deft musicians ensure an accessible, yet never less than cheesecake-rich soul-jazz experience for frontmen, DiMaggio and Johnathan Celestin, to delve into. When the band is given the chance to be front and center on the Oliver Nelson-meets-Superhero soundtrack by way of Bill Evans tune,"1N 2," consider the show stolen. The band elevates The Breakdown by bringing consistency, intelligence and generosity to songs that can lyrically alternate between the sublime and the sophomoric.

The emcee, DiMaggio, is serviceable, but sometimes too light and playful for his or the project's own good. DiMaggio's humorous to be sure, but the material he spits rhymes over is so undeniably grown, what sometimes is a delectable contrast between him, Celestin and the music -- say with "The Breakdown" -- becomes a sour stomach on "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." Still, on tracks like "We Do" and the quirky outrage of the "War of Art v.2," DiMaggio is fun and probably a hoot to watch in concert.

The vocalist, Johnathan Celestin, shows more promise than his fellow frontman. With the C Phineas zenith of "RIGA" and aching "Mammamma," Celestin also has claim to the most hauntingly memorable moments of The Breakdown. Still, Celestin's voice is a young one and the decision to record live occasionally finds the lad straining for notes on more dynamically rhythmic cuts like "Free" and especially on "Get Better." Luckily, Celestin is evidence that sincerity, earnestness and obvious potential to be a fantastic vocalist can help even the most discerning listener make it over the finish line, still rooting for the team.

C Phineas is an original band worth watching, one just an album or two away from greatness. Maturity will be this group's friend, deepening their musicality and focusing their talents with greater cohesion. The first three cuts of The Breakdown provide ample proof of their flowering genius. While the hip hop portions do add a festive kick and comedic cynicism to their project, C Phineas' audible reverence for authentic jazz, soul and a restive spirituality says their hearts lie more with Coltrane than Jay-Z.  The experimentation on the project isn't going to be for all jazz or soul fans, but darn it if these guys didn't throw everything against the wall to try to get your attention. Who knew it was that easy to make a Picasso?  Highly Recommended.

-L. Michael Gipson
 
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