Hand On The Torch


Blue Note Records, 1993


REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


On paper, Us3 was an excellent idea. Young people in the early '90s were big into rap and hip-hop. Jazz is not considered to be a cool thing to listen to as a kid. Maybe, if the two worlds were merged - classic jazz samples with some cool beats and raps - it might get kids interested in the world of jazz music.

At first, with the success of the song "Cantaloop", it seemed like Us3 had done it. Even I - who was still very much a virgin in the jazz world and not entirely appreciative of hip-hop - was sucked into this world, and rushed out to pick up their debut album Hand On The Torch.

And that's when the truth was revealed. Even the best of intentions can go terribly wrong if the backing material isn't strong enough to live up to the hype. And while there are some glowing moments on this album, in the end, the project is not a complete success.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Part of the problem, to my ears, was the use of three different vocalists: Rahsaan (who is the voice behind "Cantaloop"), Kobie Powell (who handles the majority of the lead vocals) and Tukka Yoot (who is easily the square peg in this puzzle - more on that in a minute). Three different styles of vocals is the first sign of trouble - and we hit that within two tracks on Hand On The Torch.

Frankly, I like it the most when Us3 doesn't focus on the traditional images of rap music - talking about violence, use of the term "nigga", etc. - and just tries to create a trip-hop mood like on "Cantaloop". But when you get down to tracks like "Just Another Brother" and "The Darkside" - hell, if I wanted that, I'd listen to groups like Digital Underground or 2Pac. (To Us3's credit, they don't use profanity much on this album.)

And I could have easily lived without the Jamaican stylings of Tukka Yoot, whose dancehall poetry sticks out on Hand On The Torch like a sore thumb. (On the other hand, thanks to listening to "Tukka Yoot's Riddim", I think I finally know what that annoying piece of music at the start of Dumb And Dumber is. Guess I'll have to watch that movie again over the holiday.) Yoot is only on two tracks, but these are the ones I don't mind skipping over on repeat listens.

The biggest problem is that Hand On The Torch doesn't live up to the hype they created themselves; after a while, the jazz samples are so much background noise. (A notable exception is "Different Rhythms Different People", an instrumental in the sense that none of the rappers appear.) I picked this album up hoping to hear more exciting material like "Cantaloop". Unfortunately, as tracks like "I Go To Work" and "It's Like That" show, it gets real boring, real quick.

That, kids, is a shame. The jazz world is one which I am still unlocking the wonders of, and is a form of music that promises to hold a lot of excitement for newcomers. Hand On The Torch could have been a great skeleton key towards getting a new generation interested in jazz, but the torch goes out too quickly.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Blue Note Records, and is used for informational purposes only.