United States Of Mind
Saturday, July 17 If you like Langston Hughes, scat-singing, beatboxing, Charlie Parker, Gil Scott-Heron, Harry Belafonte or Coltrane's stylings from A Love Supreme then you'll love the unique stylings of the Cincinnati jazz poetry trio Is What?!, performing this Saturday at United States of Mind.
While some instrumental hip-hop groups provide their MCs smooth jazz with soft keyboards and beats reminiscent of Eugene McDaniels' "Headless Heroes" era, Is What?! takes listeners a little farther back in time to the hard, fast-paced bebop of the late '50s. You won't, however, find a drummer in this trio. When not busy scat-singing, poet Napoleon provides bassist Matt Anderson with highly unusual but rehearsed jazz beatboxing that hearkens to some of Harry Belafonte's self-percussive performances. Napoleon is known for delivering high-energy stylings that weave hints of Hughes, with Gil Scott-Heron, scat-singing and hip-hop into a brilliant tapestry.
Bassist Matt Anderson frequently joins him for two-part harmonies while laying a foundation on the boomy upright. Jack Walker embellishes the structure on tenor saxophone with lines that call back to the runs near the end of Coltrane's "Favorite Things" and the Love Supreme album. Walker and Napoleon are known for frequently engaging in musical duels, and their performance this Saturday just might incite another interesting improv.
For the skeptical reader, be warned. Is What?! is capable of expanding the jazz purist's palette, the hip-hop fan's roots and the poet's mind. They shine brightest during live performance, so take appropriate visual precautions. But, if you want to hear eclectic, serious, well-rehearsed music from three talented artists, Is What?! is the band for you to see.