Rhythm is as important as melody throughout the amalgamation of tracks on the self-titled album by Union Five. This is evidenced by the alternating emphasis on one aspect or the other – and often the fusion of the two elements, which enlivens the musicians as they play. In turn, this spontaneity commands attention because surprises abound within each track. At a given juncture the band may slow the growing momentum of the music, giving itself and the listener time to ponder what has preceded, in preparation for what is to follow. But this moment is often fleeting, as temperate paces set by the drums and bass overlay thick currents of keyboards, which for all intents and purposes allow the guitars and horns to conjure up sonic whirlwinds, as Union Five ascend to a higher and more intense level of musicianship. Newcomers to the band will find a talented group of musicians who mask the advanced nature of their compositions in the ease with which they execute them.
Union Five draws from contemporary and traditional music across genres, including jazz, funk, fusion, and rhythm & blues, in such a way its respective batteries of instruments, and the mix of textures these afford on any given track, morph into a real-time modern-day musical encyclopedia of the ages.
These jazz funkers have restlessly experimented and modelled their sound to release an album which is a good summation of what they’re capable of doing. And the recording doesn’t wait long to get into a groove either, doing so via the gritty bounce of the electric piano dancing in sync with the stately rhythm section on the opener, “Upside Down”.
“Bobby G-ish” blasts out of the gate with an equal mixture of panache and high energy before sliding into a liquid groove led by a swirling organ. The mood switches as often as the chord progressions do as the band move towards incorporate some elastic solo improvisations.
The tightest and punchiest two minutes and forty seconds arrive on the ass-kicking start-stop rhythms of “525”, where the band create jumped-up jazz over a razor-sharp rhythm section. Fusion lovers will truly dig the explosiveness of this arrangement. It’s one of my favorite tracks on the album, pity Union Five didn’t double the playing time on this one.
“Hoser” scrupulously picks the melodic foundation upon which the horns and keyboards rest as the track progresses. Meanwhile, the piano tone thickens as a means of embellishment, while the bass digs ever deeper into the rhythm. When the Alto Sax sets in, you know this is Union Five at its atmospheric best: retaining the mid-tempo beat as it slowly swings throughout. The band has the kind of groove-centric sound that goes over quite well with traditionalists as well as a young, hip crowd. Moreover these guys can play their asses off, which is exactly what they do on “Murf”.
“The Blind Kind” and “HHA” are like funky cinematic expressions. Every guitar lick, high hat crash, tickle of the ivories and bass thump, evokes wonderful imagery in your head as the band performs with gusto and bombastic abandon. Thick bass lines build the core element of these tunes.
Great keyboards and funky guitars are also part of the formula, while mystical melodies, moving solos, excellent drum play and moments that makes your hair stand on end do the rest. Union Five take their levels of sophisticated textural layering and sheer groove prowess to new levels here. Hardly have I heard an album finish stronger.