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Published: 2004/07/01
by Thomas Baker

Cadillac Jones, Andrews Upstairs, Atlanta, GA 6/17

Taking Atlanta's Cadillac Jones at face value—many members, instrumental, heavy on funk, soul, and jazz influences—might make you think toward Galactic, and you'd be almost halfway right. But while Galactic's compositions favor accents of New Orleans blues in a let's-explore-outer space stew, Cadillac Jones is preoccupied with the down in the village vibe of the upper East Coast. With seven membersGary Kurz (guitar), Hutch Renaud (bass), Jonathan Cooper (keys), Robbin Rahman (sax), Jonathan Lloyd (trombone), Robbie Nelson (drums), and DJ Greythe overall feel of Cadillac Jones is of neighborhood musicians hanging out on the front stoop on a warm summer evening, especially when audience members start breakdancing in front of the stage, or of expatriate jazzmen turning it up late night in a smoky Parisian bar and, in the weirdest-ever episode of "Quantum Leap," receiving a visit from some time traveler accidentally changing the past with the wonders of turntables and Moog. And while their onstage uniforms of orange Adidas track suits and hip-hop inflections gave their show in Buckhead's intimate Andrews Upstairs a distinct Beastie Boys-NYC borough feel, they also tipped their Kangol caps distinctly toward the improv virtuosos of yesterday with a cover of Dizzy Gillespie's classic "Night in Tunisia."

The sense of play is evident throughout the band's attitude (their album title: Junk in the Trunk, and all I'll say about the tune "Upper Decker" is that the title doesn't mean what you probably think), their attire, and genre-bending and blending performance. The night's opener "Narq" churned like the title theme for that show about the kung fu kicking odd couple cops that you don't remember but that now comes on between reruns of "S.W.A.T." and "Starsky and Hutch" on the 70s Channel, way up in the 500s and well after midnight. "Concourse '73," (which in name sounds like one of those disaster movies with George Kennedy and a cast of dozens) featured jet-takeoff effects racing around the wah-pedal stutter of Kurz's guitar. "Friend or Foe" rode a sneaky horn and bass intro into cutting turntable blasts from DJ Grey before looping back in on itself, while "Yahtzee Champ" rolled over a field of bouncing loose-change guitar licks and buttery horn with a swagger true to its titlethat of the guy sharp enough to kick everyone's ass in Yahtzee and still silly enough to brag about it constantly. Cadillac Jones' varied instrumental assault provides the band a deep bag of tricks: helicopter-blade bass that invokes Floyd's "One of These Days," arctic-breeze keys, turntable meltdowns, and wailing boneyard jazz, the sound washed through with liberal use of wah, rotosphere, and keyboard effects to create a sensation that's half exploratory funk and half mad scientist.

Now three years into their career, Cadillac Jones is plundering many of the same vaults as Quentin Tarantino: classic jazz and funk-rock, 70's sci-fi movies, and Kurtis Blow-era hip hop, just to name a few, riding that wild crossbred strain to a unique little point of pop-culture high ground. The recipe isn't necessarily new, but you can't call it old either; bands like this aren't out to change the world, just reshape it a little, accenting some new twists and a few old features in danger of being forgotten, and the playful-cool air of the music, straddling that proper line between reverent and not, is what makes a Cadillac Jones show such fresh, freewheeling fun.

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