Us3 The Third Way (Hand on the Torch Vol. II)

Us3 The Third Way (Hand on the Torch Vol. II)
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Want to feel old? It's been 20 years since UK "hip-hop jazz" group Us3 dropped debut album Hand on the Torch and hit single "Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia)." Flash forward to 2013 and co-founder/producer Geoff Wilkinson blesses us with the 14-track The Third Way, the band's eighth full-length project. While Us3 have arguably not reached "Cantaloop" highs, in terms of globe-spanning recognition, they're been remarkably successful in honing their sound over the past two decades, interpolating classic jazz breaks with hip-hop sensibilities. A slight knock against them is that by balancing hip-hop with jazz, they end up satisfying neither audience. The Third Way brings along long-time contributors KCB, Tukka and Akil Dasan for the MC duties — rappers who clearly come from a "show and prove" style of rapping that may not connect with newer fans — while leveraging jazz samples from artists such as Duke Ellington, Horace Silver and Dizzy Gillespie. Single "Never Go Back" (featuring Tukka and KCB) is an exploratory slice of hip-hop jazz reminiscent of the '90s Jazzmatazz era. Wilkinson's production is silky tight, a sparkling, fresh melding of old school jazz with modern day perspectives (see: "Dance With Me," "Beautiful"). However, there are missteps on Tukka-featuring and reggae MC-flavoured tracks like "If You Got It Flaunt It" and "Wha' Gwan." It's good to see and hear Us3 back on the scene; it's an imperfect release, but one that has appeal to existing Us3 fans. (Independent)