When contemporary instrumental jazz started becoming vibe oriented, the hook laden easy listening on steroids approach that made the radio format a viable entity began dying a slow self inflicted death.
While contemporary jazz has seemingly experimented with a variety of hybrids that may work for the individual artist, Four80East has been a model of consistency while never allowing them self to be the square peg trying to fit the proverbial round hole of the music industry. Off Duty is their sixth release and arguably their best. Rob DeBoer has the uncanny ability to find the melodic mark and with the help of Tony Grace (beats and percussion) transforms their sound into a groove oriented chill sound that some are calling Nu Jazz. A post modern happy place between the format driven smooth jazz movement and a more ambient techno induced post modern jazz. The new sound for contemporary jazz is right under your nose.
Kicking the party off with "The Walker" there is flash fried funkalicious groove that incorporates a hip hop beat with programming used to incredible effect. As one that has a tendency to keep most things "contemporary" at arms length, I love this! Bill McBirnie delivers the goods on flute with infectious solos and a deceptively subtle techno/house vibe that is guaranteed to make your musical back leg shake. The most creative work to come out of the contemporary side of jazz in years. "Cashed Out" is an ambient textured piece as DeBoer and Grace welcome you to the land of rhythm and groove. DeBoer is so on point with his guitar work laid over a groove you can truly use. Having seen some publications refer to the sound as Nu Jazz is still mystifying, good music transcends all known boundaries and Off Duty attacks both the cerebral and visceral. The vast majority of artists attempting this sound fail miserably as programming is used as a crutch instead of a valuable musical tool as we find here. The most common issue that listeners seem to have with a recording that might be remotely close to the smoother side of the jazz street is to find a release with vocals that are mediocre at best on what should be a predominately instrumental release. "Nothing Is Written" is the only vocal track with a mysterious Indian like opening and Najwa Tannus on vocals, this is flavor! Tannus vocals add another layer of texture and venture closer to a virtually perfect world music hybrid.
The ironic twist here is that there is nothing on this release that is in my particular wheelhouse yet I can't stop hitting repeat. There have been some dynamite releases on the contemporary jazz front, Off Duty is cutting edge. Four80East has managed to fuse together an eclectic yet highly accessible sound that will please their current fans and should bring a great many new fans into the fold. Incredibly engaging, contemporary post modern fusion? A rose by any other name...
Tracks: The Walker; Sandbar; Cashed Out; In The Hidden Garden; Nothing Is Written; Spun; With You; Picking Up The Threads; Vaporized; Gare Du Nord; Sandbar (radio edit).
Personnel: Rob DeBoer: keys, guitar, bass, programming; Tony Grace: percussion, programming; Jon Stewart: saxes; Bryden Baird: trumpet; Bill McBirnie: flute; Najwa Tannus: vocal on Nothing Is Written.