Matt Cooper: The Rough and the Smooth

Just when you thought acid jazz was completely dead, when you thought nothing could save it from the yuppifying influence of the smooth jazz masses, along comes pianist Matt Cooper to make it all seem tolerable again. Cooper, the man behind UK funk-jazzers Outside, likely can’t save “acid jazz” (emphasize quotes) from itself; those boomer dollars are mighty tempting, after all. But on The Rough and the Smooth (Blue Thumb BTD 7010, 69:31) he shows that the music need not fall prey to lowest-common-groove banality. This release has all the Britfunk earmarks: modern soul-jazz arrangements like the breezy “It’s All in the Plan.” Bouncing tempos, with occasional forays into drum’n bass (“To Forgive but not Forget”). But where other similar projects founder, lacking an interesting soloist to lift the arrangements, “Rough and the Smooth” tosses in guest spots by people like Greg Osby and guitarist Tony Remy. And Cooper, whose Hancock-style flexes on “Moodswing” dispel any notions of slouchdom. It’s a far cry from the undergrad-level playing on a lot of acid jazz stuff, that’s for sure, and an even farther cry from the one-dimensional beatmongering of a lot of abstract groove material. Smooth and listenable, sure, but you can still get a distinct whiff of funk through the cologne.