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Published: 2004/07/29
by Brian Gearing

Music For Life – The Motet

Harmonized Records 017

That's it. I'm putting my foot down. Anyone who calls The Motet a "jamband" will henceforth be immediately sentenced to life on tour with the String Cheese Incident; probably not much of a punishment for anyone musically sheltered enough to use that most overused of labels to describe this Colorado brainchild of drummer Dave Watts, but something's got to be done.

Take Music For Life, their most recent release, and boil it down. Go ahead. Stick it in a pot, throw it on the stove and turn on the gas. Notice something? No? That’s right, because nothing’s happening. Music For Life is about as pure as it gets: clean, untainted, fresh jazz, distilled to its funkiest essence. And while you may find a few specks of West African red clay and Mississippi Delta silt at the bottom of the pot when all everything has cooked off, there’s no useless filler, no impurities in the mix. This is not a genre-hopping, style-blender jamband.

The disc starts off with the three straightest tracks on the album, all driven by the no-frills rhythm section of Watts and bassist Garrett Sayers. While Watts is the principle songwriter on six of the eight tracks, he's mostly content to let his creations serve as a launching pad for his bandmates' own jazzy explorations. Not content to rest their haunches on boring, unimaginative, The Motet rides on the ever-changing, bold, melodic skronk of guitarist Mark Donovan on the opener, "Cheap Shit," and follow-up, "Power," on which tenor and alto saxmen Dominic Lalli and Jon Stewart and keyboardist Greg Raymond trade riffs with all the playful, childish intensity of school boys exchanging yo' mama jokes.

The first half of the disc sticks mostly to solid, straightforward funky jazz, but towards the middle of the second half, The Motet gets a little more adventurous. Whereas "Power" incorporates just a taste of sounds from outside of the traditional jazz and funk realm, "Fearless" takes the frenetic, interlaced rhythms of the second track and brings them to the forefront, summoning the spirit of African saxmaster Manu Dibango and combining it with Watts' daring break beats a la Billy Cobham and the Headhunters' Harvey Mason. The smooth, house shuffle of "Corpocratic" also offers a lively break from the beefy, low-end jazz grooves that dominate the rest of the album, taking the party off of Bourbon Street and into the swanky dance clubs of Manhattan.

For the most part, though, Music For Life sticks to what The Motet do best: occasionally exotic spices mixed into a funky sauce over a bed of elemental jazz exploration. Like the Greyboy Allstars and other contemporary jazz/funk innovators, The Motet offer much less variety and schizophrenic genre-jumping than any typical jamband, but much more spirit and authenticity. Until Webster’s decides to take notice of the jamband counterculture and revise its unabridged version, The Motet may be stuck with more than one inappropriate label, but for the moment, they’ll just have to let their music speak for itself; if they need me, I’ll come running with my robe and gavel.

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