“JAZZ is hip hop, hip hop is jazz – they’re the same thing,” pronounced Sonny Rollins on stage at this year’s London Jazz Festival.
Your average Joe jazz fan may not agree with the legendary saxophonist’s outburst – but Benet Mclean should would, as he melts hip hop songs forms into his traditional jazz quartet, while peppering the stew with elements of funk, fusion and pop.
Lurching from covers of Sam Cooke and Michael Jackson to bebop-on-bendrezine workouts, Mclean’s playful piano approach draws on everyone from Art Tatum to Elton John, and Scott Joplin to Liszt. And while his voice is more suited to a nineties boy band than jazz, his hip and swinging originals are a fitting vehicle for his raps, rasps and croons.
The genre-hopping and ironic referencing could easily feel gimmicky, but the leaps were made with ease and finesse, in large part thanks to the solid rhythm section of drummer Saleem Raman and bassist Neil Charles, who flit ably between styles and time signatures.
Special note must go to rising reedsman Jason Yarde – a former sideman of Courtney Pine and Louis Moholo-Moholo, as well as leading his own formidable Trio WAH! – who blew with an uncompromising passion and technique, wrenching brazen notes from his shiny alto.
Having rinsed the last century of popular song dry, by the evening’s close there was just one sacred cow left to slay. Mclean took the changes to monumental Coltrane classic Giant Steps – and rapped over them. Brave beyond words, but what shall we dub his genre-bending experiments? How about hip-jazz.
Benet Mclean at Hideaway, Streatham, Januray 15, 2010.