Oh Yeah, I Love that Place: Onyx Collective Swing on “2AM at Veselka”

Will Schube takes a look at the latest single from Onyx Collective.
By    June 7, 2018

Will Schube always shoots the moon.

Onyx Collective is an anachronism. They’re a bunch of young dudes playing jazz. That’d be like me finishing this piece and then getting back to my bridge game. You just don’t see it very often anymore. Even with all of the hot talk about Kendrick bringing jazz to the forefront with his Kamasi collaboration, BADBADNOTGOOD being a bunch of nerdy dudes who listened to Coltrane one time and really dug it, man, and the cool shit brewing in Chicago thanks to the International Anthem folks, jazz’s footprint is still re-forming and growing. For a bunch of twenty-somethings to emerge fully formed with straight heat—no chaser—means that they spent their childhoods practicing their scales and listening to Mingus instead of spilling spaghetti on their iPads at the dinner table. The children are the future. And Onyx Collective is the present, although probably the future too.

The group’s forthcoming LP, Lower East Suite Part Three, is due out on June 15th via Big Dada records, and the album is a follow-up to the second iteration of that same series. LES Part Two was scrappy and experimental, a wild clank of noisy drums and screeching horns. The ideas are there, but the material isn’t quite molded into something coherent. On “2AM at Veselka,” the second single from Part Three, they sound like they got their horns cleaned and drum heads changed.

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“2AM at Veselka” is ostensibly about a diner in the East Village and I’m sure every New Yorker you know who’s heard this song has already explained to you that they like Veselka and more importantly that they know about it. But since we’re talking jazz the song title doesn’t really matter because we let our horns do the talking. On “2AM,” dusty drums and dueling horns smoothly skip along sounding like a dirty martini with extra olives in the year 1930. One horn is handled by bandleader Isaiah Barr and the other by Roy Nathanson, a mainstay in the New York jazz scene since the early ‘90s.

On “2AM,” Barr and Nathanson swing together before pitting against one another in a battle of smooth licks and swirling melodic runs. The bassline walks along the soloing horns as the drums lurk beneath, layering the entire track in a heavy musk. “2AM at Veselka” is a bonafide sweep of a jazz tune, with enough character and interesting flourishes to stand out within Onyx Collective’s small body of work. And at only three-and-a-half minutes long, “2AM at Veselka” gives you plenty of time to finish your afternoon bridge match.

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