If percussionist Kahil El'Zabar was raised in Idaho or North Dakota, he might be forgiven for the doltish self-titled CD by his JUBA Collective, an ill-conceived and executed reconciliation of jazz and spoken-word with deep house and hip-hop. But hailing from Chicago, a city known for banging out innovative house music, El'Zabar should have known better than to come out with a record this bad.
JUBA is an acronym for Joined Universal Breath Ascending. In this collective, El'Zabar brings together a cadre of jazz musicians, rappers, visual arts, poets and beat-makers. He grounds the project with a wealth of jazz talent, most notably saxophonist Ari Brown, guitarist Fareed Haque and keyboardist and former Miles Davis sideman Robert Irving III. But instead of pulling rank and getting some of Chicago's best beat junkies-house pioneers like Lil' Louis or Steve Hurley, or the ultrahip rapper Common, for instance-JUBA Collective features shoddy rhymes and beats from Primerdian and Frank Orrall, respectively.
All of JUBA Collective's weakest components are pushed to the foreground. The rapping is embarrassing and horrendous, and the canned rhythms sound as if they were bought off the shelf at Target. Poets Susana Sandoval and Tamara Love's overwrought readings on "Return of the Lost Tribe" and "Venus" come off more contrived than inspired. Irving III drops some nice chords on "Papa's Bounce," but the song is saddled by a cacophony of misguided rhyming and stale beats. El'Zabar's usually superb African percussion syncopations, unfortunately, don't propel any of the songs out of mediocrity. And even Brown delivers some uncharacteristic nonswinging on "Now's the Time" and "Ornette."
If it was El'Zabar's intention to do an underground jazz/house record, then the JUBA Collective needs to stay there-about six feet under.