Plate Fork Knife Spoon

Plate Fork Knife Spoon

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In many cases, albums that have claimed to offer a fusion of jazz and hip-hop have ended up being more hip-hop than jazz. That isn't necessarily a bad thing; ultimately, the bottom line is not whether or not something is hip-hop or jazz, but whether or not it is well done. This self-titled disc by Northern California's Plate Fork Knife Spoon is the opposite of the albums that have a jazz influence but are more hip-hop than jazz; this release is essentially the work of a jazz-funk instrumental combo that happens to like the rhythms of hip-hop. The CD detours into alternative rap territory (à la Pete Miser, A Tribe Called Quest, Common or Digable Planets) on "Wonder," which features rapper Raashan Ahmad. But more often than not, this is an album of instrumental jazz-funk -- and Plate Fork Knife Spoon draws on '70s influences (either direct or indirect) that include Herbie Hancock, Lonnie Liston Smith & the Cosmic Echoes and Miles Davis (minus the extensive trumpet solos -- the Northern Californians' debt to Davis is more compositional than anything). The grooves are generally infectious -- certainly infectious enough to make this CD enjoyable -- although the solos, as a rule, aren't as focused as they could be. Think of a truly classic jazz-funk performance -- Grover Washington, Jr. on "Mr. Magic," Eddie Harris on "Listen Here," Ronnie Laws on "Always There" -- and you think of soloists who did more than groove; they really dug into their instruments and made it crystal clear that they had something to say. But if Plate Fork Knife Spoon's album falls short of mind-blowing, it's still a decent and noteworthy outing -- and it indicates that the Bay Area combo is worth keeping an eye on.

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