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Maroon Who The Sky Betrays Review

Album. Released 2003.  

BBC Review

Sassy New York outfit deliver with a sharp, witty, passionate blend of funk, free jazz...

Peter Marsh 2003

Everywhere you look these days, there seems to be another young jazz singer working their way through the Great American Songbook, maybe dropping in the odd Jimi Hendrix cover to rope in those of us who think we're still too young to be buying jazz records. This conservative take on the jazz vocal tradition might be racking up sales, but it's tempting to wonder how long it'll be before the bubble bursts.

A first look at the tracklisting on this record by New Yorkers Maroon suggests a similar approach; songs by Radiohead, John Lennon and Chrissie Hynde rub shoulders with "When I Fall in Love". But instead of neo brat pack posing, we get intelligent, passionate, adventurous music. Maroon are based round the partnership of vocalist Hilary Maroon and keyboard player Benny Lackner, aided by an acoustic rhythm section and on five tracks, the guitar playing of Marc Ribot. His presence alone is usually some indication of quality, but here he's just the icing on an extremely tasty cake.

Maroon's voice is an elastic, expressive instrument; her breathy swoops and fondness for angular phrases reminded me of Cassandra Wilson's work with Steve Coleman. She's more upfront than Wilson, more emotionally charged; sometimes this leads (as on "Bully on the Block") to her overdoing it a bit, but mostly it works beautifully. The musical settings range from cosmic vamps to M-Base angular funk to stretched ballad playing, dispatched with economy and sensitivity.

Radiohead's "The Tourist" provokes both a lovely, liquid vocal and a lush, thoughtful piano solo from Lackner. Everyone's fave Oxford prog outfit seems to be a point of reference for a lot of jazzers at the moment; though I don't know the original (probably not a bad thing) it's a gorgeous, emotive piece. Miraculously Maroon re-engineers the wide-eyedschmaltz of "When I Fall in Love" into something you could actually believe in; no mean feat when you think about it.

Elsewhere the band get a chance to stretch out; Ribot is in fine form (check his incendiary solo on "When the Storm Comes"), and occasional horns get a chance to dig in too. Who the Sky Betrays is an intense listen; politically sharp, sometimes emotionally raw, it's light years away from the MOR pap that passes for jazz these days. More please....

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