Monday, September 3, 2018

Album Review: The Marcus Lewis Big Band- Brass and Boujee

The most bracing passage of Brass and Boujee, the new album by the Marcus Lewis Big Band, comes in the final moments of the consequential project.  Kemet the Phantom raps that throughout his “whole damn life seems like I been lied to, f-ck the American dream, I’m gonna fight you” on “Ghetto Heaven.”

The incendiary lyric blows the lid off an album that’s otherwise kept at a medium simmer.  Brass and Boujee is a poised dispatch from the intersection of jazz and hip-hop.  Lewis, a Kansas City based trombonist best known for his association with Janelle MonaĆ©, has marshalled many of the region’s top jazz artists into his big band.  His urbane charts leave plenty of room for the wildly disparate rappers Kemet the Phantom and Kadesh Flow.

The latter artist employs an emphatic style so urgent that he sometimes seems as if he’s choking.  Unfortunately, he’s assigned the quixotic task of delivering Kendrick Lamar’s lines on an interpretation of “Alright,” a track that should have been left off the album.  His outburst at the end of the album aside, the nimble Kemet the Phantom applies a lighter touch. 

In spite of the album title’s allusion to Migos’ 2016 hit “Bad and Boujee,” the band’s sound is more closely aligned with ‘70s-era R&B and the pop styles of the ‘80s than with contemporary hip-hop.  A cover of Bruno Mars’ retro-themed hit “24k Magic” reflects its orientation.  Kadesh Flow boasts that “I’m dominating rap battles because of my vocabulary” on the appealingly vulnerable “Boxes.”  In much the same way, the refined audacity of Lewis’ ensemble allows it to surpass many of its peers.

(Original image of the Marcus Lewis Big Band at RecordBar by Plastic Sax.)

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