taking a listen

by Ryan Snyder

reviews of local & state music CDs

the brand new life — The Brand New Life

While rooted in everything from Miles Davis’ Fillmore sound to New Orleans funky-butt to Afrocuban rhythm to bebop/hip-hop, The Brand New Life’s self-titled debut album is neither a jazz record nor a funk record, but rather an amalgam of the two that blurs the lines so thoroughly that it ends up sounding like something else altogether. Each track is a multi-layered microcosm of movement, and although there are plenty of danceable parts — along with some dance-floor-clearing ones — the album is best appreciated with headphones where all the intricacies of the tempo changes, especially the dynamic percussion, can be picked out amongst the clatter. There’s a deep, ever-grooving bottom underlying all of their movements, but it’s nothing James Brown or George Clinton would necessarily recognize. The album is driven by the twin lead saxes of Walter Fancourt and Casey Cranford and almost entirely instrumental, save for the occasional call and response by tubist/ percussionist Jared Mankoff. The vocals at times dislpay even more texture, such as the far-off chants of “We Made Dogs,” but can also seem pointless or even detrimental to the track itself, like the chorus to “Zack Is Back,” which is also dragged down further by the fact that the vocals are poorly overdubbed. The album’s vitality rests in the contrast created by the heavy syncopation of its horns and the cascading polyrhythms, leaving guitarist Ben Rayle as the odd man out sometimes. Still, his steady wah-wah starts to poke holes in the manic Middle-Eastern horn harmonies midway through “Hini,” as the track gives way to one of the few moments where the underutilized guitarist is allowed to assert himself over the pervasive horn section. The biggest knock against the album is just that: The horns tend to dominate the album to the point that it doesn’t feel like the democratic effort that most great world-beat albums are by necessity. It does finally all come together utterly harmoniously on album-ender “Time Warp,” where Fancourt and Cranford drive the groove through noisy ambience into heady experimentalism. Overall, the music is still vigorous and inspired as it ebbs and flows with considerable facility from beginning to end.