On the Bright Side

The American Music Project

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On the Bright Side Review

by Michael G. Nastos

Pianist Keith Javors has worked in a variety of different contexts, but with the American Music Project, he makes a move that seems unexpected, considering his straight-ahead jazz background. Working with alto saxophonist Dane Bays and poet/rapper Dejuan Everett (aka D Priest), Javors fuses urban funky or progressive modal music to loud, boldly pronounced wordplay. While at times the music is not produced in balance to fit the harsh shout-outs of D Priest, it's effective albeit jarring in most instances. Curtis Isom is included singing on selected tracks, while the trio of Javors featuring the excellent drummer Alex Brooks bubbles underneath the extroverted vocals. For sure the music has its heart and soul in the right place for the American jazz tradition as Everett speaks proudly in brief demonstrative levels about people like Miles Davis, Billie Holiday, and John Coltrane, but the music is more about personal strife and inner-city oppression. The title track is the most cohesive, where Dave Zeigner's modal bass and Bays' sax lead even out the hard snare accents of Brooks and D Priest's uplifting dialog with a call-and-response chorus. A modified musical version of Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament" has the rapper clashing with the bluesy, swing-styled music, encouraging everyone to be open-minded and available to possibilities not readily proffered by the mass media. Tracks like "Forever More" and "Call It What You What" are the hardest to grasp musically, as the vocal content is simply overwhelming in the mix (though Javors offers a lilting piano on the former selection), and the pieces ramble a bit. Isom is a good singer, as demonstrated by his part of the blues-pop tune "Path of Most Resistance," and his feature "By the Way" in delicate, ballad tones with a beautiful piano introduction that centers the music. Another ballad, "My Past Is Here to Stay," shows Bays to be influenced by David Sanborn in his lead-out solo, while Isom waxes poetically in his own way. Clocking in at under 40 minutes, it seems this record could have been so much more than it actually represents, and very well may some other time. Consider this -- On the Bright Side was recorded in Marquette, MI, a culturally rich city, but in relation to diversity, an unlikely place for gangsta rap reflections and big-city neo-jazz modernists to ever meet up and record this kind of crossbred music.

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