Album Review: Brooklyn Butterfly Session, The Rongetz Foundation, September 2012 (Brooklyn Butterfly Sound)

Yes this is modern jazz and yes this is cool. But don’t spell cool with a ‘k’ or new with a ‘u’. The Rongetz Foundation pulls off modernity and coolness with class and credibility.

Founder and namesake Stephane Ronget is a French ex pat who makes his musical home in New York City. Formerly the maestro behind the Metropolitan Jazz Affair, Ronget is said to have assembled the crew on this album to explore the intersections between jazz, soul, and hip hop. But he achieves so much more.

The magic of this album is that the seams between these genres don’t show. The influences are so nuanced, so natural, that it feels like you’re listening to a great contemporary jazz record. This is cool jazz all grown up. There are no contrived verse overlays or jarring electronic transitions. Rather, the tone and theme remain grounded in jazz. The musical spurs Ronget and his collaborators explore are blended artfully within the overall arc of the record.

The most outward expression of hip-hop / jazz fusion is found on the track, “A Composer of Modern Day” featuring John Robinson. The band adopts a tight hip hop accompaniment and resists injecting unnecessary improvisations, which are aptly left for Robinson to handle through his verse.

Similarly, “Eunice K” featuring Renee Neufville of Zhane fame, is a soul hybrid with velvety Rhodes accompaniment by Jeremy Brun. The pairing of Neufville’s vocals and the band’s backing track is so natural that it ebbs and flows between R&B and jazz without you really noticing the transitions.

The more straight-ahead jazz compositions, including “The Bolshi Drunk Ghost,” “Freaking Sunshine,” and “Sam’s Intro” are mature, well played tracks that rightfully show off the musicianship and jazz composition that gives this album some weight. “Sam’s Intro,” in particular, has an easy going groove reminiscent of Ellington’s Caravan and offers an utterly listenable tableau upon which talented improvisors like Bruce Williams (alto sax) and Ronget himself (trumpet) can play.

Gregory Porter brings his swing and his inimitable vocal timber to bear on the upbeat and danceable opener, “Go Go Soul.” This would be a crossover hit if there were any music broadcasters left on our airwaves with the courage to give jazz another chance with the masses.

The Brooklyn Butterfly Session is, as financial analysts might say, ‘wholly accretive’ to today’s jazz. It may very well be the wedge that opens the door to a new normal for jazz. One that embraces soul and hip-hop not as accents but as fundamental elements of a genre that is so good at absorbing its surroundings.

Players:

Stephane Ronget (trumpet, compositions, arrangements, production), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Bruce Williams (alto saxophone), Jeremy Brun (keys), Corcoran Holt (acoustic bass), Jerome Jennings (drums), Gregory Porter, Renee Neufville, John Robinson, Ansel Matthews, Marvin Parks (vocals)

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