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P'taah Staring at the Sun

Staring at the Sun

Staring at the Sun Album Cover

Release Date: 03.03.03
Record label: ubiquity records
Genre(s): Classical, Jazz


Jazz Reassembled
by: terry sawyer

Whenever I am dragged into a club, I often marvel at how bad the music is. It's not just that it sounds it's made by someone who sold their soul to Satan and now has to avoid his nightly phone calls begging for a refund. It's also the brutal anonymity of it all. While some K-head might wax unconscious about how seamless it sounds, for my buck, it's just a skittering void, punctuated with an occasional loop of voice, and a beat that is to dancing what paint by numbers is to the Italian Rennaissance. Someday I swear to you, we'll find out that club music was actually delivering traitorous missives to hostile extra-terrrestrials, giving them detailed instructions: a roadmap for our misery and eventual domination. I say this to let you know that I'm an extremely hard sell for a techno record. While I love many of the innovators of the genre, I usually pull out my hatchet for anything like the sucker punch that is your typical techno effort.

P'taah is unlikely to be coming to a dance floor near you. The press kit calls P'taah a collective and I have no fucking clue what that means. Maybe it just means that when they're not making music together, they're arguing about dirty dishes and phone messages that never made it to a post-it note. But when they aren'ts waxing utopian with Chumbawumba, they apparently also make effortlessly enthralling records with undercurring waves of R&B, Brazilian music, and jazz.

Chris Brann, the totalitarian godhead of the collective (I'm just guessing), crafts a compelling free flowing ricochet for the rest of the album's performers to work through. Sylvia Gordon's vocals on "Staring at the Sun" are some of the most muscularly entrancing I've ever heard on a techno record. Whereas many club divas sound like they're auditioning for Sister Act 10, Gordon's vocals are dropped in under the tightest reins, as if each and every note is wrapped around her Badu-like fingers. Though many of the jungled jook joint numbers are impressive, my favorite tracks on "Staring at the Sun" are those that seem to come at jazz in the more loose-spliffed Kruder and Dorfmeister vein. "Meditation 3" takes tidal piano riffs and washes them through an extended zig-zagging set of drums. Eight minutes of "Surrendering" and you will be wholly disarmed by Brann's gently landing chill-out epic. There are more than a few moments on "Staring at the Sun" that rise above the status of designer drug back drop and demand a deeper ear.

Not all of the tracks successfully mine their targets. "Nobody Knows" with its dire, deadpan vocals make it an interesting slant on a classic song (and again, Gordon's voice is a slice of restrained heaven), but it falters in its adherence to the house convention: repeat it once and it's cool so surely five thousand times equals perfection. There's a not so fine line between meditative repetition and home dentistry. "Beneath an Autumn Star" feels like equal parts bad pass in a cheap bar and shop til you drop with its disemboweling saxophone presence. But those moments are minor ripples.

Like Funky Porcini's "Fast Asleep", P'taah are set to seamlessly merge the improvisational chemistry of jazz musicians into the world of electronica. Though this isn't clearly on the musical ground I love most, P'taah are staking out a space worthy of attention and a top shelf shot of praise. 24-Feb-2003 10:30 PM