Joomanji - Manj (2013)

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    Based in Santa Cruz, CA and the brainchild of respected producer and instrumentalist Jonah Christian, the band Joomanji interlaces live musicianship (Amir Oosman's drums, Kevin Cameron's bass and Robert Finucane's keyboards) and scattered samplings of vinylized hip-hop to create their forward, fluid sound.
    Years of live performances and a fearless approach to experimentation is what keeps their legend and fanbase growing, and that's what listeners will pick up on when they get an earful of their latest release, Manj.
    Chock-full of sprawling, edgy instrumentals and rhymes/lyrics that seem to expound on chaotic states of mind or society, the variety of moods and moments conveyed by the players helps Manj to retain an aquatic vibe: "Divided," featuring the vocals of Carlitta Durand, laments the fracturing of a relationship while accepting its "three blue moon" shelf life as part of a larger plan, while the opening track, "Somethin' Out Of Nothin,'" uses Saara Maria's breathy croon over scattered percussion and teasing horns to describe the everyday struggle to maintain soul and self-integrity without selling out. "Free" has a murkier feel in comparison to the rest of the vocal tracks, but Te-Diggs'  rap and Aisha Daniel's throaty affirmations about what constitutes as 'freedom' is as irresistible as it is authentic. If that isn't off-the-grid enough for you, Houston's own Devin The Dude adds humor and street cred with the Mary Jane ode, "Toasted," where he declares that he "smokes the weed but never let it smoke me" as he pushes through his life and his art. 

    The CD, depending on your tastes, is an all-encompassing jazz and soul fusion with intriguing hip-hop cameos and influence ("Around The World," "Chasin Rhymes") or a multi-textured musical tapestry featuring all of the above. Better perceived as an overall experience rather than in bits and pieces, Manj spotlights the continuing evolution of a band on the brink and isn't for everyone, but is worth delving into if you're weary of the common cookie-cutter-sound and want to expand your repetoire into a different dimension of grooves. Recommended

    By Melody Charles