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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Us3's Hybrid Ends Up as a Sample-Free Jazz Combo

August 25, 1994|RICHARD CROMELIN

Like plain old rap, and unlike jazz, the burgeoning jazz-rap hybrid is more intriguing as a studio product than as a live entity. Even the genre's top act, Us3, didn't make a convincing case for the merger in its show at the House of Blues on Tuesday.

With their improvisational nature, jazz and rap both value spontaneity and immediacy, and jazz scatting, with its rhythmic and tonal alacrity, is a primary forerunner of the emcee's art.

This common ground was exploited with dash and style last year on Us3's "Hand on the Torch" album, which wedded cool-school raps to a library of samples from the famed Blue Note Records catalogue. The juxtaposition of classic old tracks and contemporary vocals had a patchwork charm and a stylistic integrity.

But the live version of the London-based outfit scraps '90s technology and embraces tradition. On Tuesday it was essentially a smoking, sample-free jazz combo with a tilt toward traditional be-bop, fronted by New York rappers Kobie Powell and KBC and London-born Jamaican Tukka Yoot. (Us3's founders and leaders Geoff Wilkinson and Mel Simpson aren't a part of the touring enterprise.)

Like most conventional rap acts, Us3 narrowed its range on stage as it emphasized energy at the expense of the content and context of its album. The performance had plenty of drive and instrumental flair, but it grew tiresome as the rappers were unable to put across much of a message or apply the light touch that would allow the rap and the jazz to really mesh.

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