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The fusion of jazz and hip-hop added up to instrumental virtuosity and danceability when Guru's Jazzmatazz performed Friday at the Revolution Room.
Guru, born Keith Edward Elam, made his name throughout the late '80s and '90s as the frontman for Gangstarr, an influential duo alongside DJ Premier. The group was one of the first to infuse its tracks with jazz samples, particularly in “Jazz Thing,” featured in Spike Lee's film “Mo' Better Blues.” The tune functioned for many as an introduction to jazz history, and Guru followed it with several solo albums under the name Jazzmatazz, the fourth installment of which was released at the end of July. Guru's Jazzmatazz records have featured such luminaries as Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Freddie Hubbard and Roy Ayers. On this tour, he is backed by an internationally integrated band led by Trinidad-born trumpeter Nick “Brownman” Ali, hailed by The Village Voice as “Canada's preeminent jazz trumpeter.” Also featured are producer and hype man Solar, DJ Doo Wop, bassist Djakhobo, vocalist Vivian Green, drummer Richard Spaven and multi-instrumentalist David Scott on guitar, keyboards, flute and saxophone.The group's musical chops were undeniable. Brownman's trumpet solos were alternately furious and soaring. Drummer Spaven accomplished the feat of moving the crowd with surprisingly complex beats, reminiscent of Tower of Power's David Garibaldi. Vocalist Green proved she was far more than a backing vocalist when she went head-to-head with Brownman in a brief but impressive musical cutting contest. Djakhobo displayed his abilities in a more understated fashion, as did the multi-talented Scott, who soloed capably on each of his four instruments.
The Friday night crowd was small but enthusiastic. To know of Guru is to be a connoisseur of progressive hip-hop, a genre whose numbers are sadly below those of jazz these days. What the fans lacked in quantity they made up for in quality. Opening acts Blockade and Goon Squad got the crowd hyped up, and by the end of the show many folks were hoarse and soaked in sweat. If you weren't there, you missed out on a show with energy, intelligence, and skills to spare.