Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The K23 Orchestra - Whisper of a New Born Ghost

It was only back in 2006 that Nas proclaimed that hip hop was dead. And he was right. As a genre, hip hop had descended from its once esteemed heights of creativity, street grittiness and innovation into a white-washed, super-glossed barren vacuum of producer driven drivel. With real instruments and even the creative use of samples stripped away, replaced by a stunningly vacuous bank of computer-generated tones and beats, each new artist's sound became a carbon copy of whatever the latest focus group determined would sell to the masses and still be able to fit comfortably into the next McDonald's commercial. Hip hop and rap had become consumer-focused, corporate banality. After all, you don't want to offend any of your super-sized Big Mac buyers.

But from the very first funk heavy guitar riff that K23 Orchestra unleashes in "Big in El Portal," you know you're in for something different. Mixing the dynamic soul/funk tones of seventies-era Curtis Mayfield and Issac Hayes with the freaky jazz fusion blowouts of Billy Cobham and Herbie Hancock, K23 take us back to the future of rap/hip hop. Rapping over a fantastic wah-wah guitar, Alfred Howard makes his street weary statement, while the bass and live drums drive the rhythm. The groove-heavy, seventies-era guitar blast of a chorus drives the urgency of Alfred's protests, that he'll wake up, break out of the crime and despair of urban life and make his escape. Fuck, it's been ages since rap/hip hop sounded this urgent.

"Whoop Tee Dee," is just a bonafied jazz-fusion/funk masterpiece. Leading off with a down home funky-ass bass riff the likes of which haven't been heard since "Superfly," the guitar and organ pile on top like individual ingredients being carefully stirred into a boiling pot of gumbo. And as this concoction reaches temperature, the song bubbles over and spills out of the pot in a pulsing stew of funk and jazz. With organ under-pinning Alfred's rap, he declares that, "Crooked master break these chains. We will be free." Where the song goes from there is unknown territory for rap as it evolves into a full-on jazz-rock-funk jam.

"Ace," switches gears, in terms of pace, but not intent. Over a slower, percolating funk jam, the clean guitar tones pick out a beautiful melody. With Alfred's street poetry name dropping Alice Coltrane it becomes clear what we're experiencing here. This is Gil-Scott Heron for the new millennium. Lynton Kweisi Johnson of jazz-rock fusion. A lyrical statesman, a man with a message, a musician, a composer. This is the rebirth of rap as something vital, as a voice, as a statement. As something with a future.

After a brief classical chamber quartet interlude with "Drifting Nexus," (yes, when was the last time you heard a cello on a rap record?) and the desolate piano tones of "Pulse," K23 picks up the funk again with "Connected." Amongst the jazz organ and deliciously picked guitar lines, guest vocalist Rosey-Dawn Selwitz bursts across like a supernova. And what a find she is, as we listen, we're hearing the astral birth of a star, someone to keep an eye out for as her solo career reaches orbit. The way she blasts off the record is reminiscent of Caron Wheeler exploding to super-stardom after her first few tracks of Soul II Soul.

I could go on about each track, but it'd be better if you just checked it out yourself. K23 has taken bits and pieces of the great artists that came before them in jazz, funk and rock and transformed the collage into something new and vital. And by doing so, they've breathed new life into the decaying corpse of hip hop, got its heart to start beating again and rekindled it's once brain dead mind.

In doing so, K23 have proved that Nas was wrong. Hip hop isn't dead, it was just waiting for some freakishly cool new Dr. Frankenstein to come along and bring it all back to life.


Buy here: Whisper of a Newborn Ghost


1 comment:

alfred said...

K23 Rocks, extremely diverse, high energy, rockin FUNK!!!!

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