HEAVy, out of Jamaica, Queens consists of vocalist Nicky Guiland and musician Casey Benjamin. As a unit, the two have been associated since their high school days in the 1990's - both are alums of NYC's prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and the Thomas Mannes/New School University. During their tutelage, Nicky and Casey have each honed their respective skills to craft an identifiable sound, evolving into an act to watch and a favorite of the global grooves underground. Flash to 2004, HEAVy released the "Wonderlove" EP on the discerning Kindred Spirits label out of the Netherlands. That release immediately attracted a lot of notice from pundits, tastemakers and DJs around the world - attracted by the invocation of kindred spirit Minnie Ripperton, and the lush and complex aesthetic of famed Chicago producer and arranger Charles Stephney.
A star-studded remix package followed with contributions from A-list remixers like Yam Who?, Jazzanova and DJ Spinna , further raising their profile and heightening the anticipation for their official debut release Jazz Money $$.
So first, the good news: many of the elements featured on Jazz Money $$ - the cheeky, wistful and independent spirit underscoring Nicky Guiland's pleasing voice and Casey Benjamin's wide musical palette and deft keyboards skills are all evident. Moments of adventurous and intelligent composition are also on display - â€˜SAM/SAM's Return' recalls the savvy and intelligence of the Wonderlove EP, as does the distinctive torch ballad â€˜Sqre One.' Jazz Money $$ sports an updated new-wavey/punk funk feel, not unlike the territory currently mined by West Coast acts like Sa-Ra Creative Partners and J*Davey and overall is a nice expansion of HEAVy's sound. Casey Benjamin helms the productions and the sound is up-to-the-minute. Throughout Jazz Money $$ are nice little sonic details that pop out and catch the ear.
In the end Jazz Money $$ comes across as HEAVy's bid for a mainstream introduction and would not sound out of place on urban airwaves. However, there lies the problem: Jazz Money $$ just feels dumbed-down, as it gets into step with the mainstream. It teeters towards the disposable, coming across with a style-over-substance ethos that given HEAVy's potential is rather a disappointment. For all of its brevity, Wonderlove - its 4 tracks clocked in about 20 minutes - spoke volumes and drew from the best of the soul music tradition while looking forward. The songs on Jazz Money $$ at times feel stale and forced. Tracks such as "p.r.i.tt.y Boy,' â€˜Longtime' and â€˜Jokes on You' offer little consequence and are immediately forgettable. Other times, a hot beat, an interesting melody or an ear pleasing vocal is placed in the service of banal lyrics - such as in â€˜Countdown' or â€˜Second Chance,' on which at one point Nicky whines "you're terrible, you're terrible, you suck!" It would be temptingly easy to write the song off as pat and a pose but the track is a catchy little ditty to which you can turn off your brain and just dance. â€˜Venomous' which opens the cd has a simple patty cake - patty cake vibe which serves a template for the overall album. The stripped down, beat-driven sound announces HEAVy's re-alignment with the fabulous bling set. In â€˜Venomous' Nicki even warns haters not to test while Casey throws the studio gauntlet towards the likes of Timbaland - "oh oh somebody's gonna get slapped!" Well maybe not - because in this mode HEAVy's specialness does not shine through and they prove as uninteresting and clichÃ© as the latest flavor-of-the-month.
All that being said, I am not yet be ready to write off HEAVy. There are moments where Jazz Money $$ sparkles with inventiveness. The duo's cover of the Isley Brothers' standard â€˜Don't Say Goodnight' - redone here as "dontsayg'night" is clever and playful. Clever playfulness, to me, in the final analysis is the real hallmark of the HEAVy sound. By closing the disc with â€˜dontsayg'night' I can at least stay hopeful for their next outing and maybe a correction to a wrong turn.