First Appeared at The Music Box, December 2003, Volume 10, #12
Written by John Metzger
These days, jazz-funk bands are a dime a dozen. There are simply too many of these road warriors traversing the country, and most are seemingly content to take turns delivering lengthy solos that drone on forever over a ridiculously simple chord structure. Add to this the fact that nearly all of these groups havenít the slightest inkling how to improvise and play real jazz, and itís no wonder that none of them has managed to make a dent in virtually any market.
One of the finer outfits that seems to have gotten lost in this shuffle is Galactic, a hard-driving ensemble from New Orleans that clearly has an understanding of jazz, even though much of its music falls closer to funk, R&B, rock, and soul. Of course, percussionist Stanton Moore hasnít exactly helped his bandís cause by issuing solo albums that sound as indistinct and generic as the rest of the jam band/jazz-funk pack. But thatís beside the point, for Galactic has finally made an album that is actually worth hearing, at least in part, and it just might help the group to find a wider audience.
Undoubtedly, some jam band fans will take issue with the fact that on its fourth outing Ruckus, Galactic has tightened things up considerably. Though each tune leaves room for further exploration in concert, none of the recorded renditions contain lengthy, meandering solos, and none exceed the four-minute mark. Yes, for better or for worse, the group has focused primarily on crafting songs. There are elements of electronica, techno, hip-hop, and soul that drift throughout the deep grooves of drums and bass ó even as saxophones wail, harmonicas flutter, and guitars chug along, adding texture and color to the compositions.
Does this newfound strategy always work? Hell, no. Sometimes ó as on the repetitive instrumentals Bongo Joe, The Moil, and Mercamon ó the tracks are unmitigated disasters, largely lacking in melody. Even in their shorter incarnations, these songs are far too long and directionless, and their hypnotic effect begins to wear extraordinarily thin because when one gets right down to it, they all wind up sounding pretty much the same. After all, simply altering the array of available instrumentation does little to hide what is essentially a formulaic approach to songwriting. This, of course, underscores what may be the greatest deficiency of the current jazz-funk scene. That is, no one, including Galactic, seems to fully grasp the notion that what might be successful on a crowded dance floor or as background music for a raging party most definitely is not the same as what works on a broader level for the home listening market.
However, there are moments when Galacticís new batch of songs are passably enjoyable, and even better, are those occasions when everything clicks. The sultry Paint seamlessly slips into the steamy groove of Never Called You Crazy; in resurrecting General Publicís Tenderness, the group shapes it into something that resembles the music of Robert Bradleyís Blackwater Surprise; on Uptown Odyssey, the band revels in its updated version of í70s soul; and All Behind You Now comes off as a cross between Jimi Hendrix and Sly Stone. If anything, these selections from Ruckus prove what some have suspected for awhile ó that Galactic might be a better soul outfit than a jazz-funk ensemble. After all, itís on the former style that the group shakes off its sterile sound and finds some passion, offering hope that it may one day live up to its potential. Ĺ
Ruckus is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2003 The Music Box