Instrumental. Avant-Jazz. Fusion. Well, there are three words that sound to these Luddite ears like a recipe for disaster. While I’ve become very intrigued of late with the idea that what most would term “background music” can actually make for a worthwhile listen and fill a space, most times it’s just sonic clutter, and I’m going to hard pass on that alone. Add “Avant-Jazz” and “Fusion”, and I’m truly already wondering why I bothered. Maybe it’s that Jazz has (until very recently) always come across as some inside joke played by the performers to stroke their own already-inflated sense of ego. Who knows?

SONS OF RA has thankfully titled each song on its second EP, Tropic Of Cancer, by number. ‘I’ despite all my previous blather, is extremely listenable, guitars, saxophone, synth and drums sounding more like latter day CYNIC than anything I’d expected. Very cleanly played and hyper-melodic, yet clearly played by extremely talented humans (more on that later), and unless I miss my guess, there’s even a nod to the theme from The Twilight Zone (4:40-4:44) that actually makes me feel I’m in on this joke. Bass-led at its start, ‘II’ is dystopian, a liquid stroll through a jungle of neon, the guitars given just a shade of roughness, as if to let us know not all is pristine under the lights in the city center. Saxophone takes the spotlight in ‘III’, the rhythm section following along as guitars and synths provide color; not relegated to the background, per se, but an atmosphere of surrounding and shifting hues.

‘IV’ is the boldest composition thus far, maybe not in busyness, but there’s an urgency here, a sense of intentional forward motion that – while not “missing” from what’s come before – certainly wasn’t as obvious. In ‘V’ keys and bass usher in a wistful, plaintive guitar solo recalling Eddie Hazel’s stellar and imperative work on the title track from FUNKADELIC’s 1971 game-changer Maggot Brain.

Tidying things up nicely with ‘VI’, Tropic Of Cancer has, in slightly over 20 minutes, managed to shatter my preconceptions, enthrall my ears and mind, and give a blatant middle finger to the ChatGPT / AI generation. I’m headed over to Bandcamp to drop some coins in the coffer. This ain’t no background music.
Review By: Lord Randall

Tropic Of Cancer [EP]