The Bass Mint Bros. - Sketches of a Neighborhood (2007)

The Bass Mint Bros.
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When I heard those first notes of the electric organ on "Awakened by a Noon Day Sun" - the opening track of the Bass Mint Bros record Sketches of a Neighborhood - the first name that came to mind was Jack McDuff. Then I heard the fusion of 70s era funk and the jazz improv licks on "The Corner Store" and "2 Cheese Slices and a Drink" and it brought back memories of that electrified jazz made by people such as Herbie Hancock on tracks like "Chameleon," that first turned me on to jazz. I hadn't even looked at the promotional materials that Chris provided with the copy of the CD that he sent me. I read the liner notes and saw phrases like "jazz-funky-soul," and I also saw Hancock's name. Sure, the writer chose Jimmy Smith instead of "Brother" Jack McDuff as the electric organ player, but that's alright.

When I heard those first notes of the electric organ on "Awakened by a Noon Day Sun" - the opening track of the Bass Mint Bros record Sketches of a Neighborhood - the first name that came to mind was Jack McDuff. Then I heard the fusion of 70s era funk and the jazz improv licks on "The Corner Store" and "2 Cheese Slices and a Drink" and it brought back memories of that electrified jazz made by people such as Herbie Hancock on tracks like "Chameleon," that first turned me on to jazz. I hadn't even looked at the promotional materials that Chris provided with the copy of the CD that he sent me. I read the liner notes and saw phrases like "jazz-funky-soul," and I also saw Hancock's name. Sure, the writer chose Jimmy Smith instead of "Brother" Jack McDuff as the electric organ player, but that's alright. I felt good knowing that I see The Bass Mint Bros as they want to be seen - as a group looking to liberate amplified jazz from the elevator music box of so much contemporary jazz.

The Bass Mint Bros strive to do two things with Sketches of a Neighborhood. While one objective is decidedly retro, the other is thoroughly modern. First, the trio of Yusef Bey (drums, percussion, keyboards and electronic percussion), Barry Hughes (upright and electric bass and guitar) and Mwalim (Hammond Organ, piano and keyboard) create Sketches of a Neighborhood as a concept album - a form that saw its heyday in the 1960s and 70s. The album's modernity comes from the trio's ability to fuse modern techniques commonly associated with hip hop such as programmed drums and samples with their jazz. The group's effectiveness in this fusion is illustrated by the fact that it is often hard to distinguish between the "real" instruments and the programmed stuff.

The concept represented in Sketches of a Neighborhood is a community - place, location, spot on a map - as a living organism. The record tells the story of how musicians relate to that place on a map, and how that place on the map relates to the musicians. The title of the first track, "Awakened by a Noon Day Sun," ought to be a dead giveaway that we're talking about people who don't work "normal" hours. The interplay between the organ and the funky bass gives the listener the impression of a man trying to stir himself after a long night. The organ seems to be saying "get up," while the bass responds "five more minutes!"

Although all but one song on Sketches of a Neighborhood is an instrumental, each song adopts the attitude hinted at by the title. In "The Corner Store," which is the album's second track, the electric organ, bass, programmed drums and piano move in and out. In this way, the instruments become a metaphor for the activity one might find in a neighborhood store.

Sacred and carnal often occupy the same space in a neighborhood, and the same is true with the musical community created by the Bass Mint Bros. The organ playing and hand claps featured so prominently on "A Store Front Bibel Study" gives listeners a feel for the kind of sounds that might come out of a storefront Pentecostal church on a Friday night during testimony service, while "Behind the Black Door Til 3 AM" and "Let Me Tease It" give a funky and sensual voice to the kind of testifying that taking place long after the saints have gone marching home. The up-tempo "Behind the Black Door Til 3 AM," almost invites revelers to pump it up on the dance floor, while "Let Me Tease It" is a straight-up blue light slow jam. "The Windsong," with it's organ mixed in with a breezy keyboard and Bey's light touch on the percussion is the kind of song a brother might want playing if he's convinced the object of his desire to come over.

On Sketches of a Neighborhood, the Bass Mint Bros shows that music, like pictures, can be worth a thousand words. Their music is as diverse - and as similar - as a musician's flat, a corner store, a Pentecostal church and a juke joint. Their music is also just as interesting.

By Howard Dukes

 
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