By Various Artists
According to the liner notes here in the CD wallet of Leeds City Council's 'Urban Fusion 2003' album it says, rather cringingly, that this is a CD "born from hip hop, r&b and urban flavaz" although what 'urban flavaz' is meant to mean I have no idea. So let's find out...
The CD starts with a jazzy 30-second intro, featuring all of the artists who are on the CD, and being only 30 seconds, it's a nice way to open the album. Second track 'All About The Bass' by Schlomo is, it has to be said, quite impressive, what with his whole track coming out of his mouth (think Justin Timberlake's embarrassing human beatbox but slightly better). Although however impressive his style is, the track is pretty unlistenable. Think Rahzel, only without Rahzel.
Track 3 is Ricky Venel Stone's 'The Dance In Me', which sounds as if it's some sort of American house track, but instead it's a moody 2 minute skit, with jazzy keyboards, even jazzier drums, and some rapping. It's an effective little number, managing to sound moody without being too depressing.
'I Could B Happy' by Eventually is next. Now, I'm suspicious already, because they've left the 'e' out of the word 'be', but the track itself is rather good. Well produced, the drums sound very raw and slick, the girl/ boy singing and rapping comes off well, and the guitar riff is also very nice. Think Spearhead and you're almost there.
'Somethin' Else' by Thelonious. It's an interesting combination of styles, rapping over an upbeat jazz track, and it works well. The odd trumpet flutter here and there keeps its jazz credentials down, and the quintessentially British accent of the young lady rapping helps the hip hop side of things.
Schlomo's up again, this time with a slightly better offering. 'Sounds From The Mouth' is an impressive torrent of madcap drum and bass influenced spitting and humming.
'Takin' A Chance' by all girl trio Stronger In Harmony (where do they think up these names?) glides along, with its slick feel and funky breaks. The singing is impressive, and it's been produced well, but it does feel rather sappy, but then again I'm not the biggest fan of R&B anyway.
'She Is (Love Music)' by Ricky Venel Stone is an arty poem with no music and lasting only 30 seconds. It's a nice bit of diversity in the CD, and proves that there are still some people willing to lay their feelings bare for anyone to listen.
Urban Arts Collective (Boys)'s 'Potential To Fly' starts with the most Avalanches- esque drum break I think you'll ever hear. The track is very cool, quite atmospheric along a driving rhythm. The rapping itself is a bit flat and monotonous, but that's only a minor fault. In all it's a great track.
Royal Blood's 'African Sunshine' is, you guessed it, acoustic jazz! The guitar playing is excellent, and the singing is very tuneful and bright. It's coffee table music essentially, but that's no bad thing when it's as smooth as this.
And so, we enter the last three tracks. 'Start The Preachin'' by Urban Arts Collective (Girls) is an acappella between two young ladies, talking about the state of teenage pregnancy. With lines like "who told you to open those legs?" it has a strong message. However, it really could've used some music. As a result, it's a bit flat and lifeless. Ricky Venel Stone (him again) & Shlomo (and him again!) team up for the next track, called 'Roll It', it's another journey into just how many drum noises you can make with your mouth. And now, the last track. At first glance, it smacks of a free form jazz medley, being over eight minutes long, but it's pretty much just a jazzy backing track, with all the artists featured singing a verse or two, to which someone namechecks phrases in Orwell's '1984', which can't be all bad.
It is genuinely good to see some arts-related projects from Leeds City Council, it's a great idea and comes off well with some fantastic production values. The tracks aren't afraid to use real instruments, and it's very refreshing - not all r&b has to be sappy drivel, not all hip hop has to be 'gangsta' driven, and not all the 'flavaz' have to be the same. It's a really good little CD - anyone who wants to see just how much musical diversity there is in Leeds should check it out. Maybe some other genres could benefit from Leeds City Council? Here's hoping...