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Say What!?

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Album Review

For Say What!?, Geoff Wilkinson — producer, mixer, and the man behind Us3 — does something almost completely different: he leaves everything pretty much the same. He was so pleased with the mix of talent he brought together for 2006's Schizophonic that for the first time he decided not to play musical chairs, and left the unit intact. Although a tad less stylistically adventurous than Us3's last set, Say What!? is arguably more grounded and coherent in sound. Within, the band explores the sublime subtlety of jazz, rhythmically and stylistically, beautifully blended with dollops of funk and doused in hip-hop. All the musicians are given plenty of opportunity to shine, with the arrangements variously focusing on the rhythm section, piano, guitar, and brass. From big-band to free-form jazz, Staxy R&B to swing-combo style, Say What!? illuminates virtually every jazz hue, and tosses in the occasional Latin flair or Middle Eastern tinge to highlight the mix. The music is superb, and is matched by Gaston and Akil Dasan's raps. They're joined by singer Adeline, the one new element on this set, who struts her stuff across the opening track (and first single) "Say You Belong to Me," easily holding her own against the guys on the rest of the set. Intended or not, many of the tracks thematically juxtapose points of view. For instance, Gaston's "Man on Top" takes a tumble later in the set, "Money on My Mind" he's still insisting, although now he's flat broke. On "Aphrodisiac" he's the one inflamed, with Adeline equally "Intoxicated" further in. It's Dasan who's trying to make time with her on "How About It Baby," while she runs for the door on "I'll Be Right Back," unless he and Gaston beat her to it, as the trio members desert their not so dreamy dates. Moving outside the interpersonal realm, the DJs tackle bigger issues on "Truth & Lies," an excoriating but even-handed assault on all segments of society, while the chilling "I Don't Care" follows several characters' spiraling descent into drugs and crime. Blame society, blame the individual, but as Dasan and Adeline note, "If You Don't Know" where you come from, how are you going to know how to get through life. But whether discussing life or love, the trio instills every number with incredibly thought-provoking lyrics, some amusing, some resonating, but all determined to make one think and see anew. As those lyrics are mixed in with the stellar music, this set takes Wilkinson to a whole new level.


Formed: 1991 in London, England

Genre: Hip-Hop/Rap

Years Active: '90s, '00s, '10s

The jazz/hip-hop fusion collective Us3 scored a major hit in 1994 with "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)," a song that displayed the group's fondness for sampling classic recordings on the Blue Note label (in this case, Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island"). The group was founded in London in 1991 when concert promoter and jazz writer Geoff Wilkinson met Mel Simpson, who was writing music for television shows and ad jingles and had once played keyboards with John Mayall. The two produced an independent...
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Say What!?, Us3
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