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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Album Mon Apr 09 2007

Roots Control

It's to no small degree of anticipation that Chicago's The Jai-Alai Savant released its debut LP, Flight of the Bass Delegate, this past week. Equally due to the take-notice served with prior EP Thunderstatement and to frontman Ralph Darden's sidework as DJ Major Taylor, the band has netted a fair amount of attention, both here and elsewhere. And here's to making a grand entrance.

By way of an opener, Jai-Alai get things rolling in a dark and heavy mode with "Datamassagana" — a tune that plays off both the title and primary melodic riff from The Abyssinians' classic Trench Town devotional, "Satta Massa Gana." The track's swollen, plaintive horn chorus sets a haunting, ominous tone for what’s to follow, its skulking bassline connoting dread in both senses of the word. No sooner does it fade, then the band strips gears by launching into a whiplash-inducing trio of tunes of punk-pedigreed pop. This back-and-forth manner of navigating between styles — from rock to dub and then back again — plows a twisting path, lending the album a varied sense of balance and pacing.

As far as the more pop-ish songs are concerned, the band's material and performance is propulsive and downright jubilant; a bit bouncy, even — yet they avoid treading into clichéd anthematic domain. As a songwriter, Darden (thankfully) steers clear of emo subjectivisms, instead offering lyrics that are wryly allusive and rich in metaphor, that connect the micro- of personal relationships to the macro- of larger societal and cultural issues — the imbalances of power and certainty that keep us sometimes ambivalent, doubtful, or constantly guessing about the dynamics of our lives.

Scattered throughout the album are odd, experimentalist interludes, replete with abrasive electronic effects, shortwave radio frequencies washing in and out, samples from old movies and radio programs crackling through the ether, that thread the thing with a sense of ghostly signal-drift from some cultural netherwhere. By and large, the band keeps its repertoire tightly compact, reining themselves in to three-minute bursts, on average. The main exception being the nearly eight minute-long "Transmission From The Delegate," a sprawling roots-rocker in which the riddim gets brilliantly volleyed about from one section of the band to another with nary a fumble. Sure, the dub formula’s been frequently engaged in the name of post-rock eclecticism, only to meet with tepid results in most instances. Foot-shuffling skank, rock-steady basslines, fleshed out with the help of a horn section, and spaciously soaked down with generous reverb — it's a style that Jai-Alai take to quite adeptly, the rhythm section brings the proper amount of blood and fire to put it over.

As far as overall musical sensibility is concerned, the album reflects a band taking a solid first step. Clocking in at barely over forty minutes, it's sharply executed and astutely paced, sophisticated enough to make its share of passing nods to edginess while greeting accessibility with a firm handshake. In the end, Flight of the Bass Delegate is as bold and sure-footed a debut as one could hope for.

[The Jai-Alai Savant's recordings are available via Gold Standard Labs.]

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


  Chicago Music Media

Alarm Magazine
Big Rock Candy Mountain
Boxx Magazine
Brooklyn Vegan Chicago
Can You See The Sunset From The Southside
Chicago Reader Music
Chicagoist Arts & Events
Chicago Music Guide
Chicago Singles Club
Country Music Chicago
Cream Team
Dark Jive
The Deli Chicago
Jim DeRogatis
Fake Shore Drive
Gowhere Hip Hop
The Hood Internet
Jaded in Chicago
Largehearted Boy
Little White Earbuds
Live Fix Blog
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Loud Loop Press
Oh My Rockness
Pop 'stache
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Sound Opinions
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Theft Liable to Prosecution
Tribune Music
UR Chicago
Victim Of Time
WFMU's Beware of the Blog
Windy City Rock


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