Weekly Jazz Review: Empire of Sound’s Out Of The Norm (Released April, 2015)


MC Mattic (USA) and composer/keyboardist JUKE (France) came together for Out Of The Norm. It’s fusion jazz, like that which Miles Davis did decades ago, and A Sense Of Gravity did last year, except this time its jazz-hip-hop. Fusion jazz has a lot of philosophy around it as well; I’m sure Adorno and Larkin had something to say about it. But I’ll approach it from another road.

In a Nigel Warburton book, called The Art Question, I read about thirteen different definitions of art; if we are able to transpose visual arts into music, I’d paraphrase the best of those definitions here: Jazz is whatever you call jazz. The question, then, becomes whether you can completely divorce the ethnic origins of a music from its subsequent metamorphoses. With this album by Empire of Sound, it is easier and difficult – the ethnomusicology is simpler but the musicology is harder, partly because a lot of jazz listeners would find it hard to understand hip-hop, as much as they may find it wonderful on their ears.


In Out Of The Norm, then, jazz is not pulled apart too much. Jazz rhythms are maintained in their ‘pristine’ forms with insufficient amounts of Ellington’s ‘dirt’ in there; one can almost say that it is older jazz with hip-hop vocals and metres and beats. Which is how most jazz conservatives prefer fusion – when fusion does not transform a localized genre into an international, world-music format, but rather makes it more itself. Jazz makes hip-hop more hipper and hopper. And although its jazzy as barely jazzy can be, since they call it jazz, ‘tis be so.

“Break Away” is the breakout piece which has hip-hop poetry inscribed over wonderfully complex conventional jazz. The vocals, with beautiful syllabic control, dig their feet deep inside the horn-jazz rhythms and never miss a beat. Interludes, vivid with their authentic, original sound of hip-hop lyrics with wonderful appearances of rhythm, are those embellishments which stick their neck out in a bop-machine to disappear before you were quite able to put your finger on them. It is a really cool track, and its final two minutes and thirty seconds could be an apotheosis of bare rhythms from two not-so-distinct genres colliding in an instrumental carnival.

“Killing Me Slowly” is another such piece; I warmed up to rap sometime around the two minute mark in this one, albeit with its wonderful enunciation and clarity. The thickly textured rhythm is pervasive like a cushion, and the vocals are not exactly melody, yet they are an accent upon the tone of all that lies underneath – the little electronica rounds it up as a perfect fusion piece.

There are other wonderful tracks in there as well, but it is an album full of ideas which melts all the music together into one big mesh of fusion which is not groundbreaking, but really, really cool.

Shantam Goyal

Image Source: The Viewspaper