Weekly Wire
NewCityNet Shaken And Stirred

By Dave Chamberlain

MAY 17, 1999:  Because of hip hop's bipolar homebases, New York and Los Angeles, we in Chicago know far too much about both cities. With any luck, the J. Davis Trio will turn the tables and let the Yorkers and Angels know a little about what's in between.

"I think that helps make hip hop mean so much more in New York, to New Yorkers," says Stuart (real name: Julio; every band member uses a stage name), the smooth rapping personality that fronts the J. Davis Trio. "People listening know the areas in New York that rappers are talking about. I wanted to do the same thing, but in Chicago."

On May 14 the Trio - which is really a quartet - will play a CD release show at the Note in honor of their self-produced, debut full-length record, an eponymous effort that features material the band has been playing over the course of its four year existence. Thirteen songs of what Stuart and the band call "martini-flavored hip hop," the record finds the J. Davis Trio bridging the gap between jazz and hip hop.

Entirely organic - free of samples and DJs - the band synthesizes low-key bop and rap vocals, hitting on the head what so many acts have tried to achieve in the past. A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul were, in the late eighties, credited with breaking the hip hop mold and sampling jazz instead of James Brown and Parliament, but the music was still DJed, not played. Guru released a two-record series in the early nineties, "Jazzmatazz," which tried to splice hip hop and jazz, but remained bound to the DJ.

But the J. Davis Trio brings the real deal. The musicians backing Stuart, bassist Flavr-R-Ice (real name: Dave), drummer Aim 1 (real name: Tony) and multi-instrumentalist Ron of Japan (real name: Dave) cut a swath of jazz cooler than a Canadian chinook, all the while maintaining a steady, funky beat which operates as the skeleton from which Stuart fleshes out the raps. In fact, even if Stuart's raps were excluded, most of the thirteen songs could stand alone and remain interesting.

But they don't have to, and Stuart's rap style - in addition to a clever sense of humor and wry sarcasm - makes the Trio all the more alluring. Words roll from his tongue; lyrical, smooth and sometimes extremely quick paced, Stuart's deep baritone flows poetic. In "Bossa Nova," he effortlessly lays down "Neon fanny packs in Lincoln Park/ the South Side of town is no joke after dark/ I remember you I left your number on the window sill/ I think I'm still rolling cause I took that pill./ But it's okay because the Trio we be rolling like a marble/ down the hood upon a Lexus and we create the nexus," in twenty seconds flat and smoother than Hef in the Playboy mansion.

The city's South Side gets numerous mentions throughout the record. "I love it there," says Stuart. "It's a lot more laid back than the North Side, to the point that sometimes it's annoying. If you're in a store [on the North Side], and there's a problem, at least they try and humor you. Down there, you can be waiting in a line and ask someone why there's a long line with no one working the cash register, and they'll say 'Well, sometimes it just be that way, brotha.' Then they'll walk away," Stuart laughs.

Though the Trio has played virtually every small music venue in Chicago, the band holds one distinction: the Trio was the first Chicago band to play the House of Blues, opening for the Roots. "That didn't exactly go ever so well," Stuart recalls. "First of all, the guy introducing us started with 'Is everyone ready for the Roots?' so everyone was cheering until the curtain opened, and the whole crowd went 'Ohhh.' Then I did the OJ line [the line is "OJ fit that fucking glove," from "Harmonics 5"], and a lot of the brothers weren't quite over that whole thing. So all the way through the show, half the crowd was booing." By not using a DJ, the Trio opens itself to criticism from the hardcore hip hop community. But it's not a concern for the Trio. "First of all," laughs Stuart, "to be criticized, you have to be somebody, and we're nowhere yet." He goes on to add that, "when we started, we wanted no boundaries. That worked out to be what it is, and now we want to keep it entirely organic. You hear so many bands out there just take a little piece from everything they like and put it all together. But imitation is not innovation."

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