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Ulu: What’s the Deal

Ulu is a four-piece funk ‘n’ fusion outfit from New York City. The group’s second album, What’s the Deal?, captures it live in concert before a crowd of well-lubricated, college-age fans in Boston. Bassist Justin Wallace stitches minimal parts around David Hoffman’s Clyde Stubblefield-style beats, while Aaron Gardner does the John-Coltrane-meets-King-Curtis thing on tenor saxophone. The standout of the group is keyboardist Scott Chasolen, who commands an impressive repertoire of evocative synth voices, in addition to having the ability to get funky on Rhodes, organ and clavinet.

Although Ulu shows signs of a unified creative spirit lurking beneath the bar-band veneer, Hoffman’s drumming is predictable and offers little in the way of rhythmic spice. When the rhythm section drags, as it occasionally does, not only does it drain the music of it natural energy, it also puts a limit on everyone’s ability to be creative in the flow of the music.

Ulu want to be the next Medeski, Martin & Wood. Chasolen in particular shows potential, but he sounds like an imitation of Herbie Hancock on some of his solos; more of an effort ought to be made to avoid being “a repeater pencil,” in Lester Young’s phrase. I haven’t heard Ulu’s first CD, but Gardner’s tenor saxophone here sounds harsh and overblown; whereas, in a blues player, tone ought to be one of the first things that attracts the listener.

Originally Published