Review

TOPAZ The Zone

Album · 2002 · Acid Jazz
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4/5 ·
aglasshouse
It had already been five years since tenor saxophonist Topaz McGarrigle's Texan jazz act made it's debut by the time the group's third studio album rolled around. It's hard to judge whether or not they were earning the fruits of their labor because, other than the occasional resurfacing of McGarrigle such as his new band Golden Dawn Arkestra, the group has practically erased themselves from all the books.

Topaz were hampered down their whole career by a changing music scene after their pilgrimage from Texas to bustling New York City. McGarrigle's idea was to take advantage of the reinvigorated neo-futurist jazz casually gaining momentum in the 90's and market his and his groups talents within it. Problem was, hip-hop and R&B had been gaining momentum much more within the same decade, so much so that the hype for this new medium basically snuffed the jazz candle from any mainstream success. Although Topaz never truly made it to any high status or really even cult status sadly, they nevertheless delivered several great releases as they continued to evolve, regardless of how much attention they were getting...or lack thereof.

Topaz' music isn't exactly revolutionary, nor is it exceptionally technical like you might expect a contemporary jazz fusion act might be. Of course, McGarrigle's work on the sax is extremely proficient in both standard style and avant-garde, as well Squantch on the trombone. But what Topaz's The Zone exudes more than anything is personality. Tight knit instrumentation can bleed perfectly into rich improvisation, making the entire group, while not exactly attempting to show themselves as the most technically robust jazz act out there, still manage to make themselves seem like living legends with class alone. This could in part be due to the influence electric-era Miles Davis had on them, and to which they owe much of their structural composition. Yet other genres progressively ooze their way onto the set, particularly on the funky bass licks being the driving force on many tracks, such as the almost 8 minute long swagger of 'Walkabout'. The funk attitude is also present on heavy groovers like 'Fat City Strut', and with a name like that I'd expect nothing less. A tinge of psychedelic aura on many of the songs, especially the opener 'Minha Mente', reinforced by the mesmerizing drum fills by Christian Ulrich, make for a well-reinforced acid-jazz environment.

Some dubious elements also make themselves present though. The occasional vocal breaks on some of the songs, like the overly cheesy ones of 'You & Me', tend to disrupt the flow of what would otherwise be a very maturely structured song. Along with that and a fair bit of annoying repetition in many of the songs (in the percussion section especially) do make The Zone withstand a bit more quality it otherwise would have.

Topaz's third album marks another rather good release for the band after 2000's Listen!, and also marks the band's continued level of quality even as they progressed towards their dissolution.
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