Within the whole hip-hop/rap firmament, it’s my contention that Guru is the artist with whom most soul and jazz purists can identify with. The reason, I guess, is obvious. In 1993 he launched the first of his acclaimed ‘Jazzmatazz’ series and showed that hip-hop can work (and work damn well) within the frontiers of soul and jazz. Indeed earlier, with Gang Starr, the man had already shown huge respect for soul and jazz traditions, formats and conventions. It was clear that that was were his influences lay, and working with people like Roy Ayers, Carleen Anderson, N’Dea Davenport, Ronny Jordan and D.C. Lee it was no surprise that the first ‘Jazzmatazz’ LP was so widely acclaimed. And its little wonder that a goodly selection of cuts from that mould-breaking album are featured on this ‘Best Of…’ set. Two tracks in particular still standout – ‘Down The Backstreets’ and ‘Loungin”. The first, of course, features Lonnie Liston Smith and the playing is as sublime and other-worldly as anything Smith’s ever worked on. ‘Loungin” is a showcase for another jazz icon – Donald Byrd and again the cut rivals his very best. There are great selections from the other ‘Jazzmatazz’ LPs too – notably ‘Respect The Architect’ (with Branford Marsalis), ‘Keep Your Worries’ (vocals from Angie Stone) and ‘Plenty’ (featuring Erykah Badu). As a bonus there’s new mixes of ‘Loungin” and ‘Respect The Architect’ and a rare cut that’s only appeared on a soundtrack – it’s ‘Choices’ featuring N’Dea Davenport and Bobbi Humphrey. The whole ‘Jazzmatazz’ canon is hip-hop as it should be and proves beyond doubt that the genre shares the same evolutionary pedigree and DNA as soul and jazz and if your musical conservatism previously forced you to deny this assertion, here’s an opportunity to cast aside your blinkers and sample what you’ve been missing all this time.
(BB) 4 out of 5