With their self-titled release, Boston’s Ro Sham Beaux proudly announces their lack of regard for genre borders. Theirs is a mesh of funk, soul, jazz, and even indie rock piled into one well-oiled machine.
Featuring pianist and keyboardist Luke Marantz, saxophonist Zac Shaiman, bassist Oliver Watkinson, and drummer Jacob Cole, Ro Sham Beaux wears their influences front and centre. They certainly have all the markings of a traditional jazz group to please mature classicists, but a little push from the indie rock and funk camps helps add some much-needed diversity.
If anything, Ro Sham Beaux would benefit from an even greater sense of disobedience on future releases.
“We thrive in the spaces between order and chaos,” says Marantz. “We’re playing acoustic instruments, but electrified, including saxophone with effects and pedals, which is a sound you don’t hear very much. We improvise the forms, which means we’ve developed a whole language among ourselves out of necessity.”
“BEARBLADE,” the first track on Ro Sham Beaux, commences the fun by laying out a funky groove and some keys. Shaiman’s saxophone handles lead vocal territory, wailing away prominently with a relatively traditional set of lines. The whole song has a very buoyant yet mildly discordant feel, like funk that soars in almost anthemic fashion.
“Meatballs are the Way to a Woman’s Heart” opens with fuzzy keyboarding and patches of mood before Shaiman’s saxophone once against interjects. He plays another anthemic passage, sounding like a member of one of Maria Schneider’s orchestras in the process.
With perhaps the exception of the darker “Dreamulator,” Shaiman’s instrument is good-natured, predictable and relatively safe. This both supports and hinders Ro Sham Beaux as a complete album, making it, at times, a tad too orthodox. Make no mistake about it, Shaiman is one hell of a good player and he draws on a blissful and open-hearted tone. But the album’s edgier moments could’ve benefitted from more risk-taking from the lead instrument and more hints of the band’s rock influences.
Still, Ro Sham Beaux is a very good record and the outfit is crisp, fun and skilled in all the right places. While their latest isn’t the most exhilarating of the envelope-pushers I’ve come across, there’s an awful lot of heartening groundwork to build on.