Ask anyone on the street, and they will tell you that the 1990s was the decade when rhythm and blues fell. The genre was sacked and looted by the likes of Mariah Carey, R. Kelly, Brian McKnight and a horde of other vocalists with too many octaves and too little talent under their belts. It seemed that R&B had been overthrown by overproduction, and the paeans from Space Jam had taken over. But on the Jazzyfatnastees’ debut album, The Once and Future, two singers out of Los Angeles prove that Motown Philly isn’t back again in 2000.
Jazzyfawhat? Jazzyfatnastees is Tracey Moore and Mercedes Martinez, and although The Once and Future is their debut, the two singers have an astonishing resum?. They got their start singing back up for The Pharcyde in Los Angeles. They have opened for The Roots and provided background on the band’s albums, Illadelph Halflife and Things Fall Apart. Their voices also have graced records by Outkast, Stevie Wonder, Brand New Heavies and De La Soul. However, it is their relationship with the legendary Roots that provides the most insight into The Once and Future.
The Roots are the back-up musicians this time around, and the group’s organic, fluid, warm sound makes this R&B record a return to a mature soul sound. The smooth and ethereal twists and turns make what is a fairly laid-back record the type that will seize your attention. It’s intense in its relaxation.
Still, the most incredible thing on The Once and the Future is the empathetic and dynamic vocal work of Moore and Martinez. The duo wrote almost every word on the 10-song record, and above the sparse and dark sounds of The Roots accompanied by assortments of strings, they carry the album with the polish of professionals and the sensitivity of amateurs. The melodies seem familiar in the discourse of soul music, and yet they are always surprising. They tease the ear, and then turn the music another, intriguing direction.
Likewise, their lyrics receive the same treatment. Like most R&B songs, they are sprinkled with words such as heart, deep and weak, but instead of recasting the same clich?s, Moore and Martinez make their words mean something to the listener. On songs such as The Wound, The Lie and, well, pretty much every song on the record, they explore perceptions and emotions. The Lie delves into those chasing a dream and losing themselves and their reality in their pursuit. Hear Me is a song from a mother to her unborn child that turns into a call out to people to recognize their ills. Jazzyfatnastees prove they are no clich?, and they intend to make real music.
The most important element that carries The Once and the Future is texture. Somewhere along the way, Moore, Martinez and The Roots formed a relationship that is almost majestic. The gospel-influenced, graceful harmonies of the singers are masterfully blended with the most supple and sweet bass of Leonard Hubbard and the sparse cracks of snare from Ahmir ?uestlove Thompson, who keeps the time moving. However it’s the light touch of vibes in the background that gives this release its magnetic, almost hypnotic effect.
Every second that goes by on the album is pure pleasure, even if the topics are bittersweet. This is the type of record that just slips effortlessly from song to song and subtly glides its way to the end. It has the sensitive arrangements and dynamics of Dusty Springfield’s Dusty in Memphis or Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On. It manages to carve out its niche somewhere between pure and funky, between grass roots and electricity. It rivals the work of any self-proclaimed soul artist today because it is honest, original and seems wholeheartedly intent on reflecting the urban world.
With a healthy and soulful production and a vibe that erases time in sweet soul and jazz, Jazzyfatnastees does more than debut on The Once and the Future. Moore and Martinez make it clear that they know what jazz is. They know what soul is. They know what harmony is. And they can maturely use them as foundations to voice their unique insights into music and perception.