die-hard enthusiast of the Montreal
International Jazz Festival (and jazz festivals
in general), I’m always looking to discover and recommend
fusion groups. If it weren’t for fusion (Weather Report,
Chick Corea and Miles), I would have never been able to negotiate
the long and winding stairway to jazz. For many, fusion is the
indispensable enabler, and has never been so necessary especially
for listeners raised on rap and hip-hop who find themselves unable
to make sense of the more complicated forms of jazz.
MK, both the name of the group and the versatile,
charismatic singer who performed to capacity crowds on successive
evenings at the Savoy during the 2012 Montreal
International Jazz Festival.
be blurred, borders be damned is what best defines the group’s
highly original and inventive approach to music and opulent sound.
take long to realize that Sarah MK doesn’t play it safe;
the music is neo-everything. Funk and soul, rap and hip-hop are
modest beginnings that go where genre music has never gone, and
then stays there because it's home. If at the outset the basic
ingredients are initially easily recognizable, the music seems
to deliberately reject its origins in order to end up somewhere
better, only to leave better and go somewhere else. Almost without
exception, from one track to the next, listeners will find themselves
participating in a voyage which they didn’t sign on to but
readily embrace, such is the craft, control and uncanny development
that underlie most of the compositions.
whispers and crescendos, there is nothing accidental in what this
group of highly competent musicians is putting out. A simple hip-hop
theme, such as introduced in “Forces” will morph into
a richly textured, hypnotically arrhythmic soundscape, the vapour
trail of which the nimble Anh Phung turns into a madly inspired,
jazz-inflected flute improv that hooks up with an imploding, jagged
edged guitar solo such as you haven’t heard in a long while.
guitarist Jordan Peters has listened to his early John Scofield
and has developed a scale and cadence that is distinctly his own.
What distinguishes Peters’s solos are their meticulous construction
and directionality; he doesn’t play notes, he creates ideas
which are developed and brought to breath stopping conclusion.
My only complaint is that his solos are too few and far apart,
especially on the group’s just released first CD, Worth
hip-hop is equally about music as attitude and is one of the ways
listeners try to situate themselves in the world, in Sarah MK
they are drawn to pulsating soundscapes that are decidedly off
center and yet dead on, which is why the music gets better with
successive listening. Many of the compositions include interludes
where the music deliberately loses its shape and momentum, allowing
for waves of sound, like spray or iron shavings, to shiver the
skin and saturate the venue.
Peters composes, produces and arranges most of the music while
the vocalese is delivered by Sarah MK, whose rich and dynamic
voice refuses to falter in the upper register and bespeaks of
a control center that should be the envy of any singer for whom
singing is an art form.
the many bad pluses the music of Sarah MK offers is the contribution
of percussionist Jahsun, who, unlike most drummers live, doesn’t
overwhelm the group sound. I’m still applauding Milton Nasciemento’s
bold 2011 Montreal Jazz Festival decision to install his drummer
in a plexi-glass enclosure.
there is Sarah MK’s judicious and thought-provoking use
of rap, inserted into the music in a supporting role. She makes
the case that rap is most effective when part of something much
larger than itself -- and that it loses its staying power when
it's only its (monophonic) self. If we grant that what rap wants
to be and deserves to be has not yet been settled, Sarah MK has
entered the debate and makes us listen.
MK continues to evolve from one series of gigs to the next, which
is why their very ambitious CD, Worth It, does not quite
satisfy like live performance, which is often the case in jazz.
That said, what is essential in their sound does not get lost
in translation: the attention to detail in the studio makes its
way into the live performance, which speaks to the vision and
discipline of the musicians and their understanding of the sound
and its effects they want to generate.
are looking for radical invention and adventure, Sarah MK is doing
everything right, which doesn’t mean that everything will
turn out right, since so much depends on luck and timing and the
that exists has a beginning, and Worth It, born in Montreal,
is walking the walk and talking the talk.
is wave. Music is a wave. Sarah MK.
© Chantal Levesque