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An unclassifiable outfit with members who have lineage in Chicago and New York’s underground scenes, Je’raf are well versed in jazz, punk, funk and hip-hop, and they mesh them all with an eccentric and highly skilled delivery that few, if anyone, could replicate.
“Black Holes As Waste Management” starts the listen quirky and unpredictable with a free jazz approach as brass and dual gender vocals complement the funk friendly setting, and “Olive Juice” follows with frisky percussion and hypnotic bass lines as soulful vocals guide the exciting, hip-hop influenced unusualness.
Things only get more interesting from here, believe it or not, with the initially bare “(This One’s) For The Ether”, which recruits soft horns and elegant musicianship, while “Umbra” takes on a hypnotic quality as rapping enters the feral jazz. “S.S.H.P.”, one of the album’s best, then leads sparse with soaring vocals before a busy display of cabaret rock sweeps in with timeless melodies that’s both rowdy and calculated.
Towards the end, “Sad Boi (Feels Entitled)” benefits from spoken word alongside gentle drumming before playful saxophone contributes, and “Ballad Of The Flat Earthers” exits the listen with ominous story telling as strategic brass and a call and response tactic finishes out the affair.
Perhaps most closely related to art-rock, Je’raf never stay in one place very long, and it makes for a fascinating listen where each subsequent listen brings new finds as all 7 members contribute their respective talents to an iconoclastic brand of fusion.
Reviewed by Take Effect Reviews
With members rooted in Chicago and New York’s underground music scenes, Je’Raf is a wildly diverse and idiosyncratic ensemble fusing Hip Hop, Punk and improvisational sounds. With Brianna Tong on vocals, PT Bell on vocals and bass, Wills McKenna and David Fletcher on tenor saxophone and trombone respectively, the band is rounded out by Ishmael Ali on guitar, Eli Namay on bass and Bill Harris on drums. Je’Raf’s latest album Throw Neck is a quirky project full of deft playing and intriguing musical ideas.
The album opens with “Black Holes As Waste Management ” The tune opens with bass locking in with Harris’ drums. Once Ali joins in on guitar, the piece begins to bring to mind the kind of spare, ragged, atmospheric funk of Instrument-era Fugazi. Tong enters with a dramatic vocal and lyrics about jet-setting through space in search of black holes because. “we need a place to put our shit!” Coupled with comical gang-vocals from the band, Je’Raf comes right out the gate, throwing down a bizarre, exciting and intriguing musical gauntlet. “Fifth Cycle” sets its tone on the back of some tricky and forceful drum and bass interplay, while Tong’s wordless vocal and Fletcher’s trombone dance together in counterpoint. Ali’s guitar vamps proceed subtly while McKenna steps into the arena, taking flight into a fierce, propulsive solo. Structurally and spiritually, “Oy” is the closest to straight-ahead Hip Hop than any tune on the album. Bell’s oddball, rapid-fire vocal calls to mind the jazz-inspired experiments of Freestyle Fellowship’s Inner City Griots. (“This One’s) For The Ether “is a strange and gorgeous tune that highlights the band’s ability to play music with a soft and understated character. Tong’s lead vocal is bright, and crisp, delivering serene lyrics that probe at the nature of consciousness “Just a thought…just a thought that quickly passes on by…leaving a trail, echoing the sound of sleep, traces of twilight…”
With its dynamic mixture of improvisation, hip hop, funk, and punk, Throw Neck blends a variety of influences into a unique whole. Whether it’s coming from the musician’s powerful solos, bugged-out lyrics or intricately timed, abstract grooves, Je’ Raf is making music that sounds like nothing else.
Written by John Morrison for Jazz Right Now
Around March 1, just before the Illinois stay-at-home order was issued, a very rare album full of groovy prog-prophecies found its way into my car CD player. Gifted to me by the one and only PT Bell, rapper and bassist in /Je'raf/, Throw Neck quickly became a staple of my quarantine soundtrack.
/Je'raf/’s debut LP came into existence hot off a six month residency of regular shows at Cafe Mustache (for those unfamiliar with the international phonetic alphabet, the band's name sounds like “giraffe”). A supergroup of heavy hitters from the Chi/NY improvised and DIY scenes, /Je'raf/ is as virtuosic of a band as the word “residency” suggests. While their songwriting is rarely predictable, the album is interspersed with recognizable structures. Right now I’m in love with the slowly building cabaret track “S.S.H.P”. which all at once recalls Alberta Hunter, the raucous chorus of the Doors’ Whiskey Bar, and the UFO footage released by the Pentagon a couple weeks back.
Throw Neck is bookended by two Hitchiker’s-Guide-esque bassline-driven planetary doomsday bangers, “Black Holes as Waste Management” and “Ballad of the Flat Earthers”. On these tracks, vocalists PT Bell and Brianna Tong flaunt elaborate dystopian storytelling. The album ends in a crescendoing horn-section accompanied by a call-and-response in which Tong shouts an improvised list of “Lizard People”. (According to Tong, Mark Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos always get a spot on the list of Lizard People. Micheal Buble does not always get a spot)
“Olive Juice'' and “Sad Boi (feels entitled)” are similar in tone. Both tracks are darkly humorous homages to absurd modern character archetypes. The album dips into more sincere territory on the beautiful crooning slow burner “(This One’s) For the Ether”. If you’re just looking for the bangers, “Oy”, “Fifth Cycle”, and “Umbra” all feature idiosyncratic but danceable drum and bass grooves. But if you’re coming for the bangers you’ll stay for the twisting chromatic melodies and conspiracy-theoretical lyrics that drive this album into earworm territory. If you’re a sad boy, if you’re certain the Earth is flat, if you have an addiction to a porn fetish that’s technically legal, if you’re worried about 5G antennas and/or the NSA, this album is probably for you.
The album was recorded by Seth Engel at Palette Sound in Bridgeport, Chicago, and released on Leap day, February 29, 2020. CDs and cassette tapes are available through Chicago labels Amalgam Music and No index, respectively. I spoke with /Je'raf/ in a zoom meeting and they say that there miiiight be a music video coming out.. sometime. Quarantine makes collaboration and everything else difficult. In summary, a lot has changed in the past couple months. I hope that you, dear reader, are staying safe and sane. Listen to this dang album and give /Je'raf/ your money!
Written by Louis Clark for The Sick Muse.
Based in Chicago, the young collective of artists Amalgam has distilled its productions since 2015 in an already well-supplied and multidisciplinary catalog. We got a glimpse of it with Dawá, an improvised music album which associated the French trumpeter Timothée Quost with the Americans Ishmael Ali and Bill Harris. We find these last two in this new collective production, Je’raf, a self-proclaimed septet of danceable-woke-conspiracy-theory-noise-hip-hop-metal-jazz-funk monologue-core.
This refreshing team illustrates a reality that is now attributed to Chicago. We are in fact used to saying that after Los Angeles and New York, the “mushroom city” becomes the third nursery for artists in the USA, with however a marked desire to rethink the circuits of artistic production (all disciplines combined) , that is to say without intermediary between the buyer and the artist. This is the line that Amalgam has set for itself. And it works.
If a word should link all the intentions of Throw Neck, it is the groove that runs through this disc. Je’raf is very comfortable in all registers which he explores with communicative joy. We hear free jazz, hip-hop, funk, and even pop (furtive). On this sound canvas are texts that scratch America, the police, religion and other jokes.
Je’raf also reveals to us, above all, seven talented artists, who master their work to the point of diverting it. The quality of the compositions and the performance does not erase - on the contrary - a manifest desire to play with the codes and the gimmicks that were too long awaited, so that the freshness of the music prevails. All done with the subtlety of a good mix, and Throw Neck seems like a disc that feels good. Quite simply.
Written by Raphaël Benoit for Citizen Jazz
Formed in 2017, art-rock ensemble Je'raf arrange bits of hip-hop, jazz, funk, and postpunk into whimsical, progressive jams. All seven members (they're split between New York and Chicago) play in similarly animated, eccentric bands outside of the group too--bassist and vocalist PT Bell is in art-punk unit Blacker Face, for instance, and vocalist Brianna Tong fronts jazz-fusion group Cordoba. On Saturday, February 39, local labels Amalgam and No Index release Je'raf's rambunctious and politically charged debut album, Throw Neck. That night they celebrate with a headlining set at Hungry Brain; Udababy opens.
Written by J.R. Nelson for the Chicago Reader
CASSETTE TAPES AVAILABLE HERE
Danceable woke conspiracy theory noise hip-hop metal jazz funk monologue-core. Je'raf is a Chicago/New York based band that formed in 2017. They combine hip hop, funk, and free jazz elements into tightly arranged songs that leave room for improvisation and looseness, while incorporating critical and satirical social commentary on police, conspiracy theories, religion, cults, and the emergence and trajectory of the American Bro.
Je'raf has held a monthly residency at Cafe Mustache in Chicago since July of 2019, playing every third Tuesday of the month. Their debut record, Throw Neck, is set to release this February 29 (LEAP YEAR!) at the Hungry Brain, with a split release on both Amalgam and No Index Records based in Chicago.
Brianna Tong - Vocals
PT Bell - Vocals, bass
Ishmael Ali - Guitar, electronics
David Fletcher - Trombone
Wills McKenna - Saxophone
Eli Namay - Bass
Bill Harris - Drums, percussion, Microkorg
Recorded at Pallet Sound by Seth Engel on February 2 and 3, 2019.
Mixed and mastered by /je'raf/
Design and layout by /je'raf/
Artwork by Jordan Martins
Photo by Rachel Winslow