Sprinkle some Latin salsa, reggae/ska, hip-hop/scat on jumping
jazz and you get Cuban-jazz, which is the mixture that The
Cat Empire acquire on their debut release Two Shoes,
produced by the band and Jerry Boys. Although Cuban-jazz
is affiliated with beach parties, Miami dance club music, and
New Orleans' Mardi Gras, it's been rare to find the vibe of the
Caribbean islands in Melbourne, Australia, which is the hometown
of the sextet The Cat Empire.
It was in 1999 when core band members Oliver McGill (piano,
keyboards, recorders, tubular bells, backing vocals), Felix
Riebl (lead vocals, chariotti, percussions), and Ryan Monro
(double bass, bass guitar, backing vocals) came together and began
laying the foundation for what has become The Cat Empire. By 2003,
the trio settled into a sextet that included Harry James Angus
(2nd lead vocals, harmony vocals, trumpet, recorders, resonator),
Will Hull-Brown (drums, shouts), and Jamshid "Jumps"
Khadiwala (turntable, tambourines, clave, shouts). The tracks
on their album have a jam band style sonorousness and collaborative
interaction, which prompts waves of spontaneity in the shouts
and tempo shifts and lively exchanges between instrumental parts.
The music is jubilant and giddy and entices hips to swing, feet
to move, and fingers to snap along, even from the most reluctant
of listeners. Adding to the elation in the music is a cheerful
brass section called The Empire Horns, with parts arranged
by Ross Irwin.
The energetic vibe of the brass section on the opening track "Sly"
is surrounded by salsa beats and rap style vocals. It has a party
vibe like The Kingsmen's "Louie Louie" and Smashmouth's
"All Star." The funky rhythms go on the blitz as the
layering of instrument parts elevate hand in hand in accordance
with each other. There is spontaneity and order in the jamboree
as the rumba-tinted hip swinging beats on "In My Pocket"
are shadowed by reggae grooves, jangly percussion and tingly bell
chimes. There is gypsy style jamming in the tune, spuming like
Calexico and The Brazilian Girls, with sing along
choruses that add to the jubilant horn motions.
The motions are reduced a few levels on "Lullaby", with
light hip-hop beats and slow bobbing vocals. The sparse clips
of turntable scratching in the background are swirled in with
the Spanish-accented jazz horns and the New Orleans style soul
in the movements. The flow is easy going, but quickly rises with
the zesty tambourines on "The Car Song." The wicked
organ vamp on the tune is engulfed by dance beats and hip-hop
vocals with small doses of turntable scratching. The lyrics tap
into the band's themes: "Someday I'll get that car to start/
Someday I'll learn how to drive too."
The Cat Empire's lyrical themes seem to center around sexy women,
mistakes made in life, aspirations wanting to be realized, and
the strife of war and conflict. In fact, the words are about anything
that has been unforgettable in their lives. The lyrics are influenced
by the world around them, whether it's a girl in a club they can't
keep their eyes off of or a war going on across the globe from
them. The lyrics talk about memories and reflecting on them, like
on "Protons, Neutrons, Electrons" when the vocals muse:
"I've done too much of some things and not enough of others,
just like all life lovers." The song has a Vaudeville style
in the instrument rotations with burlesque flavored horn movements.
The light percussions and wood pipes are adorned by a jazz infused
piano melody whooped up by hip-hop/scat vocals, quavering tambourines,
and shuffling jazz drum strikes. The brass section is low keyed,
like in the title track, swimming along soft rolling bass notes
and ska-fringed instrument motions similarly to the dance beats
and harmonizing of Pepper. Riebl's vocal pitch, particularly
on this track, has a resonance like Ray Davies' (of The
Kinks) timbre. The instruments and vocals work as one unit
flowing and ebbing in unison.
The reggae influences are most noticeable on "The Chariot"
and "Party Started" with feverish horns and cushiony
bass notes that ease the flow. The spicy Cuban-tinged piano motif
on "Sol y Sambra" is filled with hip swinging beats,
flashy cymbal action, and lots of zing in the jazz-tempered brass
section. The Cat Empire play with tempo changes and dynamics,
especially on the final two tracks "Saltwater" and "The
Night That Never End." The tempo fluctuates between lively
and lounging, and from hip shaking to slow, finger-snapping beats.
The sunny piano segments are pumped with light chorus line drum
kicks and a gypsy ruckus in the movements. The piano and drum
exchanges are softly tussled and melodically strewn.
The Cat Empire has Cuban-jazz in their blood without ever being
natives of the Caribbean islands. They have the spontaneity of
The Good, The Bad, And The Queen and the excitement of
Toubab Krewe. Their debut album transcends genres and works
on so many levels, especially World Music, literally meaning music
for the world to enjoy.
2. In My Pocket
4. The Car Song
5. Two Shoes
6. The Chariot
7. Sol y Sambra
8. Party Started
9. Proton, Neutrons, Electrons
11. The Night That Never End
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