The Herbaliser - "Mr. Chombee has the Flaw" (Session 2)
When extremely skilled musicians show off their full range in a pop format, it can sound a bit ridiculous – ask anyone but the most loyal Mr. Bungle fan. To its credit, the West London scratch-funk collective Herbaliser seemed to realize this in 2000, when it rechristened itself the Herbaliser Band and recreated its own “turntablist” aesthetic… with live instruments! Listening to Session 1’s big band go through “loops” without ever playing them the exact same way twice was as much brain-twisting, dopey-grinning fun as the most baroque Eddie Van Halen solo.
On that first sesh, Herabliser self-covered tracks from its previous three outings; now, on Session 2, almost a decade later, the Band tackles selections from the three discs since then (most notably last year’s Same as It Never Was, a glossy excursion into the sort of classic pop songsmithing that ruled the R&B airwaves in the late 1960s and early ’70s). The results? Hardly disappointing. Hardly surprising. About what you’d expect. Well out of their time, but not out of ideas.
Since the heyday of the Roots, live-band hip-hop has wandered out of fashion. The music’s latest iterations don’t seem to fascinate born-and-bred jazz cats as easily as Prince Paul and DJs Premier and Shadow did. In the last 10 years, Herbaliser may have left its own comfort zone, but, now, it can hardly claim to be changing the game.
On the plus side, Session 2’s extended jams are hardly lacking in depth. Anyone who stuck around is in for another complex, amusingly overdone treat. The producers claim to be inspired by, more than anything else, film soundtracks, and that’s evident. The infectious "Amores Bongo" bumps along like a sweet car chase; it recalls, without irony, the most lush, buoyant “blaxploitation” soundtracks of the ’70s. In contrast, “Another Mother” and “Moon Sequence” build a sense of sleek foreboding as slowly and steadily as a weather pattern.