Shakatak -- Across the World

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Shakatak – Across the World

Feb. 3, 2012

One of my all-time favorite groups in contemporary jazz is also one of the most elusive in terms of being able to catch them in concert here in the States. I’m talking about Shakatak, the longstanding English acid jazz/jazz funk band noted for some of the most rhythmic, smooth, and well-phrased music, always with the most solid and cool vocals performed in their own unique and collective fashion. Their latest release, Across the World, is simply more of the same exceptionally high quality material as they’ve produced since their beginning in 1980.

This album leaves no stone unturned in terms of presence, style, and flavor. The music is always delightfully full of that snappy, airy, feel-good nature. It so reminds me of a better time — a time when cares were minimal and our senses were loaded with stimuli that were so very good for the soul. While the tracks often have that distinctive collective vocal style, Jill Seward’s sweet and sexy lead vocals on select tracks always stand out. In addition, we get the usual superior quality provided by Bill Sharpe on keys, bassist George Anderson (who recorded his own very noteworthy and solid album a couple of years ago), and drummer Roger Odell. An appealing display of competent backing vocals by Jacqui Hicks and Debby Bracknell, very smooth sax work by Derek Nash, expressive guitar from Alan Wormald, and a dazzling synth solo from Grammy award-winning pianist/keyboardist Don Grusin round out this very special yet typical Shakatak project.

Few groups with original members withstand the test of time, and Shakatak has done so with apparent ease and obvious success. While many of those others who’ve survived have done so by transforming their sound and morphing into whatever the listening audience is currently preferring, Shakatak has, for the most part, maintained its essence and trademark sound (e.g., the title track, “So High,” and “Love Holds the Key”). Granted, Wormald’s electric riffs on guitar, like that heard here on “My Heart in 2 Places,” has not been a typical ingredient in Shakatak recordings, but it’s not at all out of place or out of sync with the group’s strong identity.

Shakatak fans can easily relate to what I’ve said and heard here. Those new to this group will find them and their material happily refreshing and, yes, a bit different from what you’ve come to know as acid jazz or jazz funk. Their modest and yet confident approach speaks volumes when trying to rationalize their still-solid presence in contemporary jazz. If only they’d spend some more touring time here in the States! For the time being, relax and enjoy some of the most exhilarating, distinctive, and satisfying jazz to ever claim virtual immortality. – Ronald Jackson

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