The feedback loop between jazz and hip-hop takes another enticing spin in the work of the Chicago quartet Spinach Prince. As heard on its recent self-titled album, the group has come up with a highly potent recipe that mixes jazz touches (trap-set rhythms, meandering woodwinds, instrumental soloing) and the basic building blocks of old-school beat-making (samples of found vocals, emphasis on texture, tight metric loops). The band consists of Elliot Ross (guitar, keyboards, bass), Thomas Faulds (drums), Charles Gorczynski (woodwinds, keyboards), and Chris Merrill (bass), but from an initial listen to Spinach Prince, you might think it’s just one guy alone in his bedroom with a crate of dusty records and a used Akai MPC. And to be entirely clear, that mistaken impression is intended entirely as a strong compliment.
Highlights among the record’s generous 14 tracks include the opening “Deadman’s Shoes” (MP3), all watery keys, film-dialog snippets, and a hard, lively beat; the swaggering “Ghanina” (MP3), featuring guest Andrew Lautenbach on tenor saxophone; the mix of willowy horns and snappy, broken rhythms of “Woodbine Twineth,” which closes on loops of haunting laughs (MP3); the occasional (and purposeful) dropped beat and sinuous, echoing layers of woodwinds of “Bad News” (MP3, the only other track on the album featuring Lautenbach), and the verbal ranting and heavy distortion that surface on “Big Stevie’s Cornah” (MP3). And “Rhodopsin,” deep in the pocket and rich with pregnant pauses, may be the best Galactic song that Galactic never recorded (MP3).
Two videos show Spinach Prince at work. To watch drummer Faulds play his stripped-down set is to see, in a nutshell, how the band thinks: keep the individual parts specific, stick to the plan, trust that the minimal elements will achieve maximum impact, improvise in close confines. Saxophonist Gorczynski (who physically resembles a young John Zorn) appears to use a laptop hooked up to both Monome and an APC 40 (which is, in essence, an MPC designed to work with the popular Ableton Live software) to trigger some of the prerecorded material. Perhaps they’re also involved with some amount of live processing of his bandmates?
Unlike the version of “Ghanina” on the album, this one doesn’t include Lautenbach: