In a recent observation on the state of jazz in the 21st century, music journalist Milo Miles wrote, By now, it's a simple fact: funk and hip-hop are the foundation for jazz that gospel and blues used to be." It's a discerning statement that quite possibly frames the current standard for modern jazz and the new generation of audience that's fast developing along with the music.
If indeed the case, then June 27, 2006 is cause for celebration when Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet arrives with its new album, Husky, on HYENA Records. The ten-track collection is vital and alive, bursting with fresh vision in arrangement, composition, improvisation, rhythm and recording. Although it was cut in one day and often comprises first takes, it's an album with seemingly multiple layers that are revealed slowly and surely with repeated listens. And true to Miles' assertion, the soul of Husky is hip-hop and funk. But in no way is it a self-conscious attempt to style-jump. It's a subtle and authentic expression. The rhythmic vocabularies are part and parcel of the Taint Septet's vernacular, as equally called upon as the harmonic languages of Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, Count Basie and John Coltrane.
For me, Husky is that rare combination of everything lining up perfectly at the right time. You're lucky if you get one of these in a lifetime," states Skerik. The band had been on the road touring and we knew the music inside out. We had a day off in Los Angeles, so we went into The Sound Factory, which is a one-of-a-kind studio, and cut the entire record that day."
Despite Skerik's name being out front, in many ways ST7 functions like a true collective with all seven members contributing compositions and arrangements. The septet consists of Skerik on tenor saxophone, Craig Flory on baritone saxophone and clarinet, Dave Carter on trumpet, Hans Teuber on alto saxophone and flute, Steve Moore on trombone and Wurlitzer, Joe Doria on Hammond B-3 and John Wicks on drums. With a five-front horn line, ST7's sound is gigantic. And yet they don't shy away from nimble, dancing harmonies that can be as refined and delicate one moment as they are muscular and bruising the next. Husky's opening cut, The Third Rail," emerges like a locomotive in the distance, faint horns growing ever louder as it rumbles forward. Rather unexpectedly, however, it turns elegant, managing to adroitly tread the line between lithe swing and grinding, gutbucket thump. The politically charged, Go To Hell Mr. Bush," is a window into the band's psyche because the music seemingly declares that creativity and artistry in the face of conservatism are the best anecdote.
Jazz to me has always been about taking the root and creating something new with it. For the Septet, we're always listening to new things and all of those various influences assimilate into our collective sound," says Skerik. The way I see it, the slow death of jazz has been created by individuals more conservative than most right wing politicians. The music's suffocated because of it. But rather than allowing that to drag us down, we actually do the reverse and draw inspiration from it."
The highlights on Husky are many and come in rapid succession. Syncopate The Taint" does just that with twisted explosions of brass. Fry His Ass," the longest cut on the album at ten minutes plus, has a rock steady groove that slowly and hypnotically uncoils. Skerik's tenor saxophone floats along mysteriously. Hip-hop influences like J. Dilla and Questlove can be heard here, while a Wurlitzer winds in and out with subtle shadings. Taming of the Shrew" takes similar influences, but creates something altogether different with interweaving horn and organ lines collectively harmonizing the theme, while a straight four beat that one might mistake for being sampled back from A Tribe Called Quest album is nailed by John Wicks. Dave Carter and Joe Doria also turn in mesmerizing solo spots.
As Husky begins to unfold, it becomes audibly clear that the album has its own definitive sound that's as integral to its overall impact as the actual songs and performances themselves. The tracks were cut at The Sound Factory where artists like Beck, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, Los Lobos and The Doors have made some of their most classic albums and recorded by the Grammy-award winning engineer, Husky Hoskulds. Everything went straight to two-inch, analog tape, a style of recording that's fast becoming obsolete in a digital world.
We paid as much attention to where it was recorded and how it was recorded as anything else in the process," declares Skerik. Husky Hoskulds is such a brilliant engineer and we gave him complete authority to do what he does when it comes to capturing and presenting our performances. In that way, he almost becomes an eighth member of the band. The recording has as much intention as the music itself."
The Septet finishes up Husky by getting down. Irritaint" is a showstopper with New Orleans' brass band funk in its DNA. Steve Moore on 'bone owns the groove. It doesn't take much imagination to envision Big Easy revelers dancing all night to this one. By the time Summer Pudding" hits, ST7 are blowing the roof off. With its booming melody, big energy and insistent rhythm perhaps there's a new anthem waiting in the wings for Summer 2006.
Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet roared out of Seattle in 2002. The group initially came about as Skerik's attempt to put together an organ-tenor ensemble with Joe Doria on keys and John Wicks on drums that would reinterpret the great American gospel canon through improvised music, but it fast grew to include some of Seattle's finest horn players with an arsenal of original tunes. Skerik named the band after the term, Syncopated Taint," which was used by America's first ever drug czar Harry J. Anslinger to describe the nation's moral decay in the 1930s and '40s as caused by the combination of jazz and marijuana. ST7 released their self-titled debut album in 2003 on Ropeadope. A live" recording, the disc captured the band's kinetic energy and received an overwhelmingly positive response from music journalists and fans alike, but it would take subsequent tours and additional material before the band's vision would be realized. Husky - in all of its colossal glory - is the realization of that vision.