|L-R: Max O’Donnell, Saleem Raman, Lamar Ita, Rocco Palladino, Charlie Platt|
REVIEW: Grime Reworked: SEN3 – Boy In Da Corner
(Birthdays, Dalston. Review by AJ Dehany)
A jazz group playing grime should seem less unlikely given the fruitful history of cross-pollination between jazz and hip hop, but grime is a darker twenty-first century iteration. It has created stars— Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Stormzy— but has been resistant to mainstream appropriation. During SEN3’s four-week residency at Birthdays the youthful jazz trio will be reworking classics of the grime genre with live instruments. Whether you think it works or not, it’s ambitious and brave and hugely enjoyable. Each week the group will recreate this primarily electronic music with guest MCs.
Tuesday’s first show was devoted to Dizzee Rascal’s debut album Boy In Da Corner. This is a stone-cold classic now fourteen years old, the same age Dizzee Rascal was when he started rapping. (Are you feeling old yet?) At sixteen he self-produced his debut single I Luv U, got signed and released Boy In Da Corner, which won the 2003 Mercury Music Prize. The beats drill into your brain and Dizzee’s flow is relentless and assertive. With tightly focused anger he evokes the broken Britain of enforced poverty in gangland estates with a vicious impact and the sense of a star being born right in front of you.
An authentically British subgrouping of hip hop, grime is characterized by rinsing production, dissonant and distorted sounds and samples, heavily punctuated basslines and syncopated beats, and British accents. Even today it still seems youthful and uncompromising. Guitar-bass-drums trio SEN3 have form on crossover with a style fusing jazz’s harmonic complexity, the smoothness of Rnb and the heavy riffing of rock. Their remarkably successful version of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit foregrounds that generational anthem’s melodic qualities and extends the original’s LOUDquiet structure into an absorbing journey. Dizzee Rascal’s debut album is a more unusual inspiration for jazz but Dizzee Rascal has always flirted with elements from rock and pop so there are chance stylistic synergies throughout.
Fix Up Look Sharp is based around a thrash-metal guitar figure and a hair-metal vocal, a hilarious postmodern intersection between sweaty rock and grime. The comedy and irony of its genre-clash is less strained in SEN3’s arrangement. At points Max O’Donnell’s complex guitar chords lend it an almost latin feel. In the crowd no-one has any idea what is going on. Crashing proggy chords and improvised extensions sweep over the relentless “BIG BEAT” with some very jazz playing and swooping chords. Brand New Day recreates the brain-drilling chorus-inflected arpeggio of the original with Max’s precise chiming guitar. Fourth trio-member Charlie Platt’s warm washes of synth smooth the sound. Drummer Saleem Raman and Rocco Palladino on bass are attentive to the rhythm-based nature of grime and add a bit of the necessary grit.
Jus A Rascal is like a playground parody of Handel’s Messiah, indelibly imprinting Dizzee’s identity. Guest MC Lamar Ita doesn’t disguise his discomfort, omitting Dizzee Rascal’s name in the first chorus completely. Throughout the set he seems uncertain about performing someone else’s words. It’s not something you normally hear an MC or rapper do. He spits the words convincingly in his own register and doesn’t attempt to mimic Dizzee’s delivery. The players confidently bring their own styles to bear on the material. While the jazz tends to smooth out the sharp corners and harshness of the source, it’s still dark, edgy and bleak. It speaks to the vitality of grime as an expression of discontent, just as jazz is associated with the struggle for civil rights. SEN3’s fusion experiment “Grime Reworked” is a much-needed bridge between different cultures in a society even more polarised today than the one memorably documented in Boy In Da Corner.
AJ Dehany is based in London and writes independently about music, art and stuff. ajdehany.co.uk
Max O’Donnell – Guitar
Saleem Raman – Drums
Rocco Palladino – Bass
Charlie Platt – Keys/Synths
Lamar Ita – MC