|Review: Travelling Without Moving|
Copyright 1996 Adam Barnhart. All Rights Reserved. Fair use of this document.Growing out of London's Acid Jazz scene, Jamiroquai (the name is a fusion of the words "Jam" and "Iroquois") began as the brainchild of charismatic vocalist Jason Kay, recording a number of singles with a shifting cast of musicians. Enjoying critical and popular success from the outset, a more solidified unit released the band's first full-length recording, Emergency on Planet Earth. Combining Kay's Stevie Wonderesque vocals, circa Songs in the Key of Life, with strong musicianship, Jamiroquai pioneered a sound that might best be described as "Acid Fusion."
Travelling Without Moving, the band's latest effort, continues to expand the musical vocabulary developed on Emergency on Planet Earth and their second recording, Return of the Space Cowboy, delivering a sound that is at once well-crafted and direct. The lead-off track, Virtual Insanity, establishes the tenor of the album quickly, as Kay addresses the deadly serious notion of genetics gone wrong with a delivery that not only prevents the song from becoming ponderous, but allows it to be fun.
Aside from Kay's strong songwriting skills, the focal point of the album is bass wunderkind Stuart Zender. His style, a smooth combination of Andrew Levy, Jaco Pastorius, and Bootsy Collins, is slick and muscular at the same time. Locking in with drummer/percussionist Derrick McKenzie brilliantly on the Latin-tinged Use the Force, Zender shows his ability to drive the music with melodic rhythmically active lines without overplaying. He takes centerstage again on the title cut, playing fingerstyle funk a la Rocco Prestia and Drifting Along, where Zender delivers a slippery reggae line worthy of Robbie Shakespeare.
Wallis Buchanan's didgeridoo shakes things up further on instrumentals Didjerama and Didjital Vibrations, tips of the hat to Australian aboriginal music that are far more exotic and ethereal than typical Acid Jazz fare. With Kay's fixation with George Clinton-style other-worldly lyrical content, it is, ironically, the two instrumental pieces that feature the ancient didgeridoo that most strongly evoke a "spacy" sound, a temporary departure that makes for compelling listening.
Co-writing six of the album's twelve songs, keyboardist Toby Smith balances the band's sound, fueling the album's first two singles, Virtual Insanity and the disco-cum-Prince sound of Cosmic Girl, while guitarist Simon Katz alternates between concise melodic ideas (You Are My Love and Everyday) and crisp supportive playing (High Times and Spend a Lifetime) without ever spilling over into self-indulgence. Together, Smith and Katz play a set of textures that bring a sense of sophistication to a sound that, in other hands, often devolves into standard-issue R&B.
Jamiroquai has, over the course of three releases, tracked a course for itself that is ambitious and organic, progressive and visceral. Playing unabashedly dance-oriented music, the six West Londoners have managed the most elusive of tasks, forging a unique musical identity, by presenting intricate and thoughtful music that remains truly accessible. Though not as jazzy as their prior works, Travelling Without Moving shows off the sound of a band that seems poised to make Jamiroquai a household word.