Although hip-hop had a brief love affair with jazz in the early
’90s, the connection was only tangential as rap artists used
jazz as samples for their beats. While jazz’s influence on
today’s hip-hop is nearly imperceptible, some artists still
tap into this connection. Since many of the rappers who spearheaded
the past movement were largely on the outskirts of the mainstream
(The Pharcyde, Digable Planets, A Tribe Called Quest), who better
to re-introduce these lost loves than the genre pushing outsider
El-P. The underground hip-hop beat architect and Def Jux labelhead
decided to cut out the rapping altogether and produce a
straight-ahead jazz album — almost.
The recording process involved El-P bringing in skeletal
compositions, which he then presented to the members of the Blue
Series Continuum. They then improvised to make the final pieces
heard on the record.
El-P’s distinctive post-apocalyptic production style
cannot be diluted; even in its most basic form, while being
interpreted by others, it dominates the record. His
doom-and-gloom-infected production is punctuated with nightmarish
piano chords, sinister flutes and distant trumpets (El-P will score
a horror film one day, mark my word). On songs like “Get Your
Hand Off My Shoulder, Pig” and “Sunrise Over
Brooklyn,” the album’s focus is most clear, and on
other tracks like “Get Modal” the sound devolves into a
free-jazz cacophony which isn’t as nice to your ears.
Experimental, brave, but not always good, High Water is a
definite step away from the Norah Jones brand of Musak jazz that
has taken over America. Dissonant and grating, much like
El-P’s music, this is not for everyone, but for those brave
enough to venture a listen, there is some good to be found.