Album covers can give away an album, compliment the music contained within, and even determine whether or not someone like myself, a music critic, even cracks the case to listen to what’s inside. For the longest time KZUU had an album by a group called The Aesthetics, a name that inspires high degree of quality and beauty. This particular album sat on the “To Be Reviewed” shelf for ages. The cover, both front and back, is what kept it there. On the front were green cartoon monsters like something from an Ugly Kid Joe album or one from the post-hair-rock early grunge days. The back was more of the same, though a picture in the middle portrayed three rocking guys well into their 30s and 40s, grasping onto that same image. In a way, the album is reminiscent (god I like that word!) of an aging mullet head, the party in back/business in front dude in his early 40s working at the local tattoo parlor or hog shop. You know, the guy that dug those power ballads so much in the 80s that he never really got over them. This album screamed We’re those guys and we still rock! And I wonder if, in 20 years, we hipsters of today will be revered as the mulletheads of yesterday. I, for one, hope not.
When designing an album cover it is important to focus on the music. The cover must represent the music contained within. And, once perfected, lead the target audience to pick up the album and say Sweeeet…
The cover of Locked in a Basement could almost be an indiepop cover—the way the guy on the left holds his arm while wearing that snug long-sleeve polo and pinstripe dress slacks and the way the middle guy carries his typewriter around with him. But it’s not an indiepop album. It’s a jazz album. But the concept worked. I picked it up and, because of the cover, selected it out of more than 20 jazz albums to review first; albums that included two by Elvis Costello, a Michael Bolton second-time-‘round attempt, and a ton of other albums whose covers strongly hint of cool jazz, modern jazz, jazz combos, Latin jazz, east coast jazz, New Orleans Katrina Tribute jazz, et cetera, blah, blah,and more blah.
Heernt (MySpace) kicks it off with a quickie, fast and short; the trio sounding more a quintet with layered saxophones and a funky electric bass. Oh, how creative! The second tune, which the album is named after, follows the whole typewriter theme—featuring the typewriter itself! As the band kicks in electronic beats, keys carry the song to a major album high point. Throughout the album Mark Guiliana’s drumming is superbly unique. His style takes jazz and adds to it an indie rock sound. Zac Colwell’s saxophone adds a free jazz obscurity to the tight electronic beats, allowing the group as a whole to shine. This is first apparent in “Brown Bird, Olive Sloth, Green Dragon,” where half way through Colwell growls before launching into a rapid solo. “Aaaahh..” is a light, few note ballad that features drums more than anything else until Colwell jumps in on flute. Some songs, like “Sea Urchin. Sea Urchin Run,” could be a trio version of Pat Metheny tunes featuring saxophone instead of guitar—more in line with Bob Curnow’s tribute to Metheny. “Love comma Mark” adds a distorted electric guitar to the mix while “Pi ~ 3.1415” starts out with hand claps (something I am especially fond of thanks to Acid House Kings’ “Do What You Wanna Do” and Pat Metheny’s “First Circle”). The final tune is a ballad of epic proportions and closes out the album in a mellow tone (no, not the Ellington song). While the rest of the album fits nicely into the modern jazz, free jazz, and garage jazz (a term they coined for themselves) categories, “Brawling on Epic Landforms” takes us back a number of years to the softer days of jazz, where melodic horns and saxophones ruled the day. An epic way to end an epic album.
Locked in a Basement is filled with what I would call hipster jazz, a sound that would fit well in a trendy urban bar filled with hipsters and young professionals and other twenty-somethings that transcend genres and own downtown condos and drive the latest fuel efficient coupes or old Volvo sedans. The jazz is modern but not in an easy listening, soft jazz sort of way. It’s electronic and experimental. It’s unique and refreshing. It is jazz for the next generation of jazz lovers. If there is only one jazz album you check out this year, or even this lifetime, make it Locked in a Basement by Heernt!
This review was originally posted June 15, 2006 on the old version of FensePost.
RazDaz Recordz [CD, 2006]
2. Locked In A Basement
3. Brown Bird, Olive Sloth, Green Dragon
6. Make Me Dance, Make Me Dance
7. Sea Urchin. See Urchin Run
8. Quick Groove Rolling
9. Love Comma Mark
10. Pi ~ 3.1415
11. Brawling On Epic Landforms