Fresh Off the Airwaves: Homage EP

Last week, Homage, the College’s 10-piece, student-led jazz band, released its five-track debut Extended Play, or EP. As five of their members graduated last June, it is unlikely that Homage will perform at the College again, and so this EP is a tribute in itself to the time the band spent together over the last year. Inspired by artists like J Dilla, Stevie Wonder and Kanye West, Homage has created a mix of covers and original songs that recreate the soulful and urban sound of soul jazz, jazz funk and R&B.

The opening track, “Devil Thought He Had Me,” immediately sets the tone for the rest of the EP with its pulsing rhythm and seductive vocals. With its brilliant combination of vocals, lyrics and instrumentals, this track combines soul jazz and jazz funk, and in some ways, it is the strongest track on the EP. The religious undertones of the lyrics combined with the expressive jazz playing give the track a deeply emotional sound. Part gospel choir, part underground jazz club, the track encapsulates the soul and tension that define jazz and R&B music. The third track, “Don’t Have to Change,” follows suit, staying true to its blues jazz roots. However, the song differs from the first track, with its ballad-like composition. The vocals resonate strongly above the instrumentals, which in this trackmostly consist of the keyboard, played by Danny Schwartz ’13. In these two tracks, we witness the EP’s biggest appeal: the exquisite vocals of Sevonna Brown ’15. Her vocals are the definition of exceptional singing, and they raise the EP to a higher level of quality.

The second track, “Yee,” is the only fully instrumental song on the EP. Although easy listening, it is perhaps the blandest track on the EP, faintly reminiscent of elevator music. Right from the conventional, three-note opening, it is clear that the song is not going anywhere exciting. “Yee” lacks the edge of the other tracks and is markedly separated from the rest of the EP, not for its performers’ lack of talent but for their lack of adventure.

The two rap tracks, “Thieves of the Night” and “All of the Lights,” are also in their own gray area, separate from the rest of the EP. The band’s attempt to create and cover rap music is mostly uninspiring and on the whole unsuccessful. “Thieves of the Night” is somewhat enjoyable with its minimalistic composition and mellow beat. However, one minute in, the track loses these qualities and continues on a lackluster note rather then its originally relaxing one. The last two minutes of the track contrast with the first half, with the pounding trumpet and guitar – played by Noah Wentzel ’13 and Phil Parnell ’13, respectively – sounding more awkward then stimulating. This same awkwardness is especially apparent in the band’s cover of Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” There is an obvious mismatch between the rapping, vocals and instrumentals. Each one has its own dynamic that clashes with the other. Rather then meshing, the track stretches at its seams. The rapping is weak and fails to capture the gravity of the lyrics, which ends up making it sound forced. Since the band makes no attempt to change its interpretation from the original, the inability of the track to encapsulate the feel of the original makes it a failure.

On the whole, the EP has a mixed sound. At times inspiring and soulful, it also has moments of awkwardness, especially in its attempt at cross-genre music. In Homage’s defense the band does try to be adventurous and at times manage to create a certain offbeat quality. With its eclectic combination of soul jazz, rap, R&B and smooth jazz, the EP certainly has variety within its five songs and should appeal to a number of different musical palettes.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment is that Homage had to break up so abruptly. Each member is clearly talented, and in addition to the aforementioned band members, Tirhakah Love ’15, Greg Ferland ’16, Charlie Sellars ’13, Paul Adeleke ’15, Andy Quinn ’13 and Hartley Greenwald ’16 all gave great performances while on campus. With more time to produce music together, they could have certainly souded more cohesive. However, as a tribute to their final time together as a band, this debut EP does have a bittersweet perfection. The EP is available online.