Reviews

Blue Lab Beats
Motherland Journey

(Decca/Blue Note)

8/10

Few acts encapsulate the breadth of what’s been happening in London’s jazz and neo-soul worlds as well as Blue Lab Beats. The joint project of producer NKOK and multi-instrumentalist Mr DM has been fizzing away in the underground for half a decade now, helping to further blur the lines between jazz, soul, Afrobeat, hip hop and electronica. 

Their latest offering and third album, Motherland Journey, is their most ambitious to date, enlisting at least fifteen guests over seventeen tracks. There are contributions from London neo-soul stalwarts Tiana Major9 and Ego Ella May, a pair of infectious features from London via Accra’s Ghetto Boy and most notably of all, an appearance by the late legend Fela Kuti, whose estate are fans of the duo’s work. 

The combined result of these wide-ranging features and Blue Lab Beats’ own sparkling instrumentation is a jazz fusion record that positively glows. ‘Labels’ is a knock-the-dust-off-your-speakers hip hop opener, quickly followed up with the one-two hit of ‘Blow You Away’ and ‘Sensual Loving’, both featuring Ghetto Boy on charismatic form. Fela Kuti turns up halfway through for the suitably Afrobeat-tinged title track and by the time things close on ‘Reflection’ the pair are layering sprawling guitar solos and sombre strings to melancholic effect. 

Occasionally tracks blur together and the abundance of guests renders their impact less effective than it might be on a sparser record, but overall the rotating cast gives the project a feeling of a house band at the jazz club of the future; where all genres and grooves are welcome as long as they don’t disrupt the vibe.

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