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Monday, November 20, 2017 
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Greyboy
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Soul Mosaic
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That Greyboy is one funky m.f. for sure. From the opening bars of Soul Mosaic, he will seduce any beat-head with his penchant for a crackin' good breakbeat. Greyboy (otherwise know as Andreas Stevens) has always displayed a strong beat sensibility over the course of his four solo albums. Ten years ago he fused his love for hip-hop into a jazz-influenced aesthetic, which resulted in the acid-jazz release Freestylin'. Since then his hip-hop influences have moved increasingly to the forefront, particularly with Soul Mosaic's predecessor, Mastered the Art.

Soul Mosaic is Greyboy's fourth full-length album in a 10-year span. So he's not the most prolific producer, but the work he produces is obviously well thought-out and executed. His preference for quality, not quantity, is reflected in the process through which he created Soul Mosaic. In his Long Beach studio he recorded parts from various musicians, which he mined and deconstructed for select elements to include in Soul Mosaic — some of which may take on a different form from what they had when initially recorded. With the addition of proper vocals being a first for Greyboy, Soul Mosaic takes an even broader sweep at beat-influenced music, though it's rooted in a respect for classic soul, jazz and funk.

The tag line of the album title is "a case study in beats soul and funk." The resulting work is not as clinical as this description suggests, although Greyboy does draw on all elements to create his mosaic. His beats are rooted in hip-hop for the most part, but tracks like "Big Tito" and "Loggia" maintain a strong connection to dusty rare grooves. Each track is a pastiche of genres and styles, seamlessly and organically produced.

"Make Music," for example, incorporates funky jazz horns, Bart Davenport's soul-inspired vocals, as well as an MC's flow, with a beat and keys that could almost be something produced by Jazzanova. But don't take Greyboy for a jack of all trades and master of none. His work is authentic, and the result of an expansive musical vision and knowledge.

In "Bronson," the most straight-ahead hip-hop cut on the album, Greyboy shows he can get grimy with it. A grinding bassline of industrial proportions is complemented by Mainflo's dark inflection to create a track of Wu-Tang-esque atmospherics and urban grit. Equally authentic are the straight-ahead funk tracks, such as "Got to Be a Love," a supremely funky and rousing workout, where Greyboy employs the smoky vocals of Sharon Jones (of the Dap-Kings).

One of the standout tracks on the album, "See My Eyes," perfectly displays Greyboy's ability to juxtapose contemporary production with an old-time feel. The mournful vocals capture the sound of soul records, not only in the style of vocal delivery, but in the analog quality — it almost sounds like old vinyl. This is in contrast to the crisp but haunting studio production that rounds out the track.

Greyboy's familiarity with and proficiency in producing instrumental tracks, which by their nature have to be cleverly produced to hold attention, means that he does not rely on the vocal to capture the listener; rather, the addition of vocals gives him an extra instrument to play with. Thus many of the tracks on the album would stand alone well as instrumentals. Although he consciously stripped everything down for this album, from production methods to the sounds that actually made the final mix, Greyboy's attention to beat construction and nuance, mixed with a strong sense of melody and soul, makes for engaging listening.

Weak moments? Thankfully few and far between, but the bluesy "So Good," featuring Bing Ji Ling, is one of them. The hook comes off as lazy, Ling's voice is a little strained and reedy, and overall the track doesn't have the same satisfyingly rich feel to it as the others. Overall, I would like to hear some of these tracks with fuller, stronger vocalists. Sharon Jones' vocals fit perfectly, but there's a thin quality to Bart Davenport's voice that, while not entirely detrimental, yields a result not as powerful as some. His voice works well on the Stevie Wonder cover "To Know You Is to Love You," where it's offset with full and warm production, but the more stripped-down "Make Music" leaves it a little exposed.

Soul Mosaic is a fitting next installment in the Greyboy saga, charting his continued progression as an artist. The addition of vocalists will open up his appeal to a broader base without compromising any artistic value. Soul Mosaic thoroughly accomplishes its mission of throwing its influences in the blender and coming out with a pleasing concoction for beat-heads, soul fans and funk addicts alike.


by Lucy Beer




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