When Guru started his Jazzmatazz series back in 1993, it was a genuine nod to the forebearers of hip-hop. The project successfully married his stoic rhymes with the smooth sounds of various jazz greats. But somewhere along the line, the Gang Starr front man veered off his original course. Now, after three progressively different chapters, he returns with Vol. 4, a sonic amalgam of the previous three that produces mixed results.
Helming the boards throughout is Solar, the same producer behind Guru’s lackluster 2005 solo effort, Version 7.0: The Street Scriptures. Unfortunately, the beatmaker’s use of ancient drum breaks (“Stand Up”) and equally dated bass lines (“Cuz I’m Jazzy”) only serves to highlight Baldhead Slick’s seldom quote-worthy rhymes. Evidence of that surfaces on “Kissed the World,” a politicized interpretation of MC Lyte’s “Georgie Porgie,” where he spits, “Who’s up next now, against the rootin’ tootin’?/Invading and raidin’ is what he’s used to doin’.”
While jazz favorite David Sanborn’s sax serenades the cool “Living Legend” and Bob James’ keyboard skills accentuate the blaxploitation soul of “State of Clarity,” most of Guru’s aural accomplices are contemporary singers. Neo-soulsters Kem and Raheem DeVaughn impress on the polished skirt-chasing selections “Connection” and “Wait on Me,” respectively. However, Bobby Valentino’s limp vocals further drag down the already cheesy Brazilian swing of “International.” The aforementioned “Stand Up,” featuring Damian Marley’s ragamuffin style, is another awkward collaboration.
Lacking the legendary instrumentalists, such as Donald Byrd and Roy Ayers, that anchored previous Jazzmatazz projects, Vol. 4 plays out more like a scattershot compilation than a fully realized thematic disc. Despite the lack of focus, Guru and Solar manage to pull together a few notable tunes—namely, the mellow “Look to the Sun” and the Vivian Green–guested “Fine and Free.” But instead of just talking all that jazz, the duo could have actually made some. —PAUL W. ARNOLD