The Highest Fi – Barbuda
Jamband fans looking for a soulful, jazzy experience should check out New
Jersey's Barbuda. With the release of their first full-length studio CD,
The Highest Fi, Barbuda and singer Ranjit Arapurakal are poised to
make their mark.
Recorded over three days in summer 2001, Barbuda managed to capture the
essence and basic energy of their sound without compromising too much for
the studio setting. It definitely does not lack is in the vocal performance.
Having previously reviewed the band's EP, I was prepared for Arapurakal's
amazing singing (without repeating the mistake of thinking Barbuda's lead
voice was female). Without a doubt, there are few male vocalists in the
genre that can match his range, control, and pure ability, and the laid-back
soulful sound of the band is tailor-made for his expressiveness. Although
the spontaneity and soulful energy that is reputedly abundant in the live
setting is less evident on the disc, you certainly won't complain about it.
Mark Lacis (drums, vocals), Peter Lacis (guitar, vocals), and Damian Peters
(bass) provide a tight, solid setting for Nick Afflito (trumpet, flugel
horn) and Michael Fein (saxes and flute) to punctuate and fill much of the
musical space. J. Carlos Izaguirre, whose rmncludes Tito Puente's
band, adds spice on percussion, while Arapurakal doubles on keys, also
taking a few solos. Typical of a band that is rooted in jazz and funk, the
songs are well-written, with distinct breaks and departure points. Mainly
mellow and soulful, there aren't a lot chances taken on this disc and, given
the short recording time, the band was probably more concerned with quality
takes than expanding or improvising too much. Still, there are snippets of
instrumental jam segments sprinkled throughout that hint at the band's
exploratory promise. These are especially effective.
"Velvet" opens the disc as a somewhat slower soul tune. Maybe this one is
just a bit too mellow to start the recording, but it's solid nonetheless.
"Chrome" is a mellow jazz/soul tune leading into the faster instrumental
"Asleep at the Wheel", which features a tight jam. "Hip Hoppopotamus" is a
Steely Dan-esque filler jam that makes me wish it was longer. Two more jam
snippets, "Emma" and "BaDaDa" create a nice energetic buffer before the
anthem-like I Choose Music which has some nice sax work throughout.
From a production standpoint, the disc is mastered very well, with some nice
effects and filler material (Martin Luther King speeches?) added in between
a few of the songs. One criticism I do have is of the drum mix. Too much
processing on the overhead mics make the cymbals unrealistic, staticy, and
distracting. The kick drum is over-compressed, and the snare is too loud and
poppy at times. I'm a big fan of drum mixes that actually sound like drums,
and these don't necessarily qualify. These objections aside, the overall mix
is apparently not lacking.
This is a disc that is best to start with a friendly companion, a bottle
wine and candlelight. When it slows down, you can make your move, and as it
peaks you can be doing your best work. This is a solid debut disc with
evidence of ability and craft. Fans looking for high-energy funk may find
the slower, more soulful material a bit too mellow, and the best jams too
short, but that doesn't tarnish this effort in the least. If you like strong
vocals and soulful sounds mixed with your funk and jazz, you're going to