Written by: Mike Dimitriou
The band was originally conceived in New York in the late nineties but re-assembled in 2016 in Oakland. This is a solid team, built within an atmospheric and wonderful blend of Soul, Pop Jazz and the spirit of social activism. Singer Valerie Troutt is an established musical artist in the Bay Area, taking on a highly active role in the cultural and creative community through her work with the Oakland Public Conservatory, The Museum of African Diaspora, and Higher Ground Neighborhood Corp. Joining Troutt are John Ormond and Jaz Sawyer who also served as the rhythm section for the late Abbey Lincoln, the outspoken jazz diva who brought a sense of black consciousness and social activism to the Jazz world before it became a trend. The band is rounded out by two more talented musicians – Emanuel Ruffler on keyboards (grand prize in the Thelonious Monk Competition) and the rapper Ambessa Cantave.
Staying away from typical jazzy virtuoso fanfare, the band offers a positive vibe with their six-track debut offering. This is suitable for chilling, driving (I first listened to it in the car, away from traffic, and it was fabulous accompaniment) or hanging out for a cocktail. Troutt is as smooth of a singer as they come and the band’s catchy melodies are impossible to get out of your head. But this is not a mellow, laid back record, as you’ll realize when tuning in to the groovy, up-tempo blast of “It’s Just Water,” whose infectious vibe will certainly make you want to dance.
As for the album’s lead single “Trouble Won’t Last,” according to Troutt, this is “a funky soulful laid back approach to Trump’s America, it’s what our grandmothers said when life gave them lemons, it’s a reminder to keep pushing against all odds until you see the outcome you desire.”
The whole album is actually a balance of classic and iconic past sounds and forward moving musical modernity (like “We Be Rockin”), and a subtle and meaningful fusion of free jazz (kept at a discreet level), pop and urban minimalism, reaching far beyond the cross-genre, shot-in-the-dark approach many artists take when navigating such territory.
Keep Up With Labyrinth Lounge/Ruftone Records