REVIEW album Labyrinth Lounge Porgy

Labyrinth Lounge Jazz It Up On Debut Album 'Porgy'

Labyrinth Lounge is a high energy and quite a lot closer to jazz with a terrific funk and hyper-Gershwin Broadway vibe laced throughout it. The sound is funky and soulful, it is a web of the finest silk, suspending the listeners in a chamber of consciousness, conveying sonic goodness in its tissue.

I love it when I chance on a new band that is genuinely doing things that you couldn't even imagine existing until you hear them. The merger of genres found in the debut album by Oakland-Brooklyn jazz soul project Labyrinth Lounge is a case in point. Their singles 'It's Just Water' and 'Trouble Won't Last' teased ahead of the album's release, earning them comparisons to such celebrated artists as The Internet, Mali Music, Outkast, Brand New Heavies, and Betty Carter. I recall Neneh Cherry's work with Youssou N'dour.

What’s in a name? Sometimes a lot more than you might at first realize. The band’s name suggests a perfect combination of complexity and a chilled vibe, which is exactly the dynamic dichotomy making up both their sound and attitude. Originally conceived and launched in New York in the late nineties, the collective re-assembled in 2016 to grow anew in the San Francisco Bay Area and are again built from a wonderful blend of soul, pop jazz and the spirit of social activism.

The original band grew from the bass-drums pairing of John Ormond and Jaz Sawyer, best known as the rhythm section for the late great Abbey Lincoln, probably the most outspoken of the jazz divas, who brought a sense of black consciousness and social activism to the jazz world a long time before it became a trend. Taking everything they had soaked up while working with that great lady, the linked up with vocalist Valerie Troutt, keyboardist Emanuel Ruffler and rapper Ambessa ‘the Articulate’ Cantave, resulting in a unique mix of hip hop, rock, neo-soul and spoken word, sampling, beat making and improvisational approaches honed while performing in clubs and lounges in lower Manhattan, Brooklyn and New Jersey. In 2016, the opportunity arose to revisit the project with the original lineup and new direction.

After a recent performance at Oakland's Studio Grand, the band locked themselves away in the Bird and Egg Studio, resulting in six brand new tracks for their ‘Porgy’ LP, The lead track ‘Trouble Won’t Last’ is a fantastic balance of classic and exploratory, iconic past sounds and forward moving modernity, a subtle and meaningful fusion of free jazz, pop and urban minimalism.

But Labyrinth Lounge is certainly a team effort and it is the varied and diverse journeys – musical, physical and spiritual – the players have been on that bring the various elements and textures together.

Valerie Troutt is a music collagist, borrowing from ancestral centuries of sound, channeling spirits, and delivering the stories of our love, loss, and lives, a musical shaman and hungry to communicate with people. Jaz Sawyer, also originally from the San Francisco Bay Area, has toured with everyone from George Benson and Wynton Marsalis to Santana to The Grateful Dead before working with Abbey Lincoln on this particular path.

German born Emanuel Ruffler visited New York in 1992 and was immediately struck by the breath-taking artistic level and creative environment, so moved there to study with legendary pianists such as Jaki Byard, John Hicks and Mulgrew Miller a few years later. After taking grand prize in the Thelonious Monk Competition, he has achieved songwriting credit on Me’shell Ndegocello’s 'Aquarium' and also collaborated with world-famous designer Emanuel Ungaro, which ultimately led to Ruffler soundtracking an ad for an Ungaro-produced perfume.

‘Porgy’ was released through Rufftone Records, a fast growing label located in New York City with a focus on producing genre-defying music, who also recently released the piano-drum duo “Painting”, as well as jazz-core group “A Tree Grows” featuring two-time Grammy award winner Tivon Pennicott.

Labyrinth Lounge is preparing a string of live performances in LA and the San Francisco Bay Area in the fall of 2017.

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