Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Celebrating Guru (Gangstarr and Jazzmatazz)

The Intersection: Keith Elam (aka Guru) (vocals; b. 1966 - d. 2010)

The news today that one of favourite lyricist, Guru, passed away today from cancer (Rakim, Chuck D and Black Thought being the others) is crushing. He along with DJ Premier were among a handful of innovators during the late 80's and '90s as Gangstarr. Guru's solo career was just as innovative with the creation of the collective Jazzmatazz.

Jazzmatazz was arguably the first jazz/hip hop hybrid (granted Branford Marsalis tried it as well with Buckshot Lefonque a year later) that established a critical and creative foothold in the musical culture during the '90s. Gangstarr had collaborated with Branford Marsalis on a great track from Spike Lee's little appreciated jazz movie Mo' Better Blues (Starring Denzel Washington) on the track "A Jazz Thing". Guru took a brief hiatus from the band after their third album and went into the studio with a treasure chest of ideas and closet full of legends to help him execute it. The result was one of the best fusions of hip hop and jazz ever.

With the help of Branford Marsalis (sax), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Ronny Jordon (guitar), the incredible Roy Ayers (vibes), Lonnie Liston Smith (keyboards) and a list of soul, R&B and jazz vocalist, Guru showed everyone that jazz and hip hop could take the next step forward creating a new evolution for both genres. The first album, Jazzmatazz Vol. I (Chrysalis) (a series of four to date) deals with the usual issues of the streets but the skill and delivery of both vocalists (including Guru) and the jazz legends makes this a real heartfelt affair and no matter whether you like jazz or hip hop this Jazzmatazz Vol. I really sticks inside you like glue.

Standout tracks like "Trust Me" featuring N'dea Davenport of jazz/soul group Brand New Heavies and "The Good, The Bad" featuring one of my favourite hip hop artists of all time, MC Solaar capture soulful essence of hip hop and easy coalesce with hard bop rhythm backed up by the jazz legends Guru has recruited. This is an album that satisfies both sides of the jazz/hip hop fence and if you haven't heard it you really need to check it out. The truly groundbreaking session. While this is a sad day for music, we should celebrate the legacy Guru has left us. Play It Loud.

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