Jaspects - Polkadotted Stripes (2009)

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Remember that scene in the movie Ray when Ray Charles opened a concert by singing the country song "I Can't Stop Loving You"? The audience in the concert hall came ready to hear the soul music that made Charles a mainstay on the radio, record stores and juke boxes throughout urban America. Instead, Charles opens up the concert with the cover of a maudlin country song, and the crowd made their displeasure known by yelling for the singer to perform "Hit the Road Jack" and other familiar songs. Ray forged on, and eventually he won the crowd over, and his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music became a critical and commercial success.

Remember that scene in the movie Ray when Ray Charles opened a concert by singing the country song "I Can't Stop Loving You"? The audience in the concert hall came ready to hear the soul music that made Charles a mainstay on the radio, record stores and juke boxes throughout urban America. Instead, Charles opens up the concert with the cover of a maudlin country song, and the crowd made their displeasure known by yelling for the singer to perform "Hit the Road Jack" and other familiar songs. Ray forged on, and eventually he won the crowd over, and his album Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music became a critical and commercial success.

I thought about that scene as I listened to Polkadotted Stripes, the latest CD from the Atlanta based outfit, the Jaspects - which on some levels sounds nothing like 2008's Double Consciousness.  That album proved that a jazz band could incorporate hip hop into their music without sacrificing the creativity that have made both genres key components of the American soundtrack.  So what did Jaspects do on  Polkadotted Stripes? They seemingly turned their backs on jazz and embraced rock, electronica and auto tuned vocals. I'm sure this record will have some listeners yelling "sing 'Step Up Your Game,'" at their stereos or computers when they hear the hard rock "Chuck Jones."

Of course, I happen to like "Chuck Jones," and not just because hard rock doesn't bother me, but because underneath those slashing guitar riffs and screaming vocals is a pretty powerful message. Pop culture experts will know Chuck Jones as the legendary creator of the Looney Toons, Tom & Jerry and "How the Grinch Stole Christmas." In short, generations of people spent their childhood watching the kid friendly and highly entertaining cartoons that Jones created.

Jaspects uses Jones and the cartoons he created to lament the fact that in today's society kids are growing up too fast and getting involved in activities that are far too advanced. The song's first verse is about a disturbed gun-packing 12 year old boy and a pre teen girl who uses sex to attract men to make up for the love she doesn't get from her emotionally distant father. The second verse is about a 13 year old boy who is involved in an after school tryst with his teacher. The hook "babies ain't watchin' cartoons no more," is sung in child like voices between both verses. "Chuck Jones" is the most memorable, if not the best song on the album. However, there are other high quality tunes to choose from.

In fact, "Chuck Jones" represents one recurring theme on this record in that it is just one on the tunes in which Jaspects opts to show a socially relevant and political aspect to their music. The epic title track also takes on a political theme. The topic, wondering if America truly accepts black people as a part of this nation might seem to be a bit behind the times when the president of the country is an African-American man. However, all the talk about how President Barack Obama's election means that the United States has entered some kind of post racial utopia seems quaint at a time when many people try to cast him as the other, compare his wife's family to monkeys and yell insults at him while during a nationally televised speech to Congress. And when you consider that Obama has received more death threats in a little more than eight months in the White House than George W. Bush got in eight full years, the songs repeated refrain of "America, do you love me/I just need for you to tell me the truth/ America will you every be my country tis of thee/Sweet land of liberty" may take on an added sense of power.  Besides, "Polkadotted Stripes" is also the song that - upon further review - makes you realize that the band didn't abandon it's jazz stylings after all. There are tempo changes within the song, improvisation and nuance - all combined with keyboards and hip hop. The song is eight minutes long, but those tempo changes keep the record flowing. 

Another notable track is "Fallin,'" a song that could actually be embraced by the tea party crowd as it is about how the people seem to be falling deeper in debt to the government. Of course, lest there be any doubt where the band stands politically, there is "Unifunk," which ends with the crescendo of the Obama catch phrase "yes we can," that fades into an enthusiastic "yes we did."  Relationships of a more personal nature are not ignored as well with the energetic "Like a Drum," the funky "Be Your Man," and the jazzy and "Find My Way To Love," providing the disc with a strong mid section.

Some might be tempted to punish Jaspects for turning away from the formula that worked so well on their previous records. That would be a mistake. Groups need to be allowed to follow their creative vision, and in this case the Jaspects have reached a place that - unlike polka dots and stripes - does not clash at all. Highly Recommended

By Howard Dukes

 
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