Guru

Jazzmatazz, Vol. 3: Streetsoul

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Give Keith Elam credit for knowing how to surround himself with great talent. It's a fact that has guided his career from the early days of Gang Starr -- the group he formed with one of the greatest hip-hop producers of all time, DJ Premier -- to his solo Jazzmatazz albums, recorded with a host of jazz legends including Roy Ayers, Donald Byrd, Freddie Hubbard, and Branford Marsalis. This third volume in Guru's Jazzmatazz series came not only after a five-year break, but at a time when the notion of jazz-rap was almost as antiquated as the '70s jazz-funk sound it helped resurrect back in the late '80s. Guru undoubtedly realized this, so instead of focusing strictly on jazz this time out, he made Streetsoul more of a roots album. With all the great contemporary R&B talent on display, though, any jazz-rap fans still left could hardly be annoyed with Guru's shift in focus from jazz to soul. A trinity of late-'90s soul divas -- Macy Gray, Erykah Badu, and Kelis -- each have features, and the swing-to-urban production behind Badu's contribution frames her vocal excellently. DJ Premier also shows up, contributing his usual excellent trackmaster skills to "Hustlin' Daze," with vocals by Donell Jones. Fellow rapcentrics the Roots make an appearance on the fight-for-your-right anthem "Lift Your Fist," and Guru inserts two pioneer tracks, Herbie Hancock's "Timeless" and Isaac Hayes' "Night Vision" near the end. Unfortunately, the one caveat to Streetsoul -- Guru's rapping talent hasn't improved at all -- is practically unavoidable considering he pops up for a verse or two smack-dab in the middle of almost every track here.

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