In the liner notes of his latest record, Graffiti, Colchester’s TerryToonz (aka Terry Reynolds) muses on the value of the urban art form. “Is it art or is it trash?” he writes. He goes on to equate the oft-controversial idiom of spray-painted expression, “the confluence of testosterone, a brick wall, the human eye and ego,” with his own search for artistic release: “the confluence of waning testosterone, years of solitary but voluntary angst, the human ear and heart.” It’s a tenuous connection, made all the more curious by the record’s MIDI-fueled blend of funk, hip-hop and smooth jazz.
The record opens on “Intrigue.” It’s aptly named. Reynolds, who programmed the album’s numerous MIDI parts, as well as playing bass and guitars, proves a skillful player. His lead guitar lines are clean and uncluttered, played with razor-sharp technical precision. Beneath his bouncy melody, a phalanx of electronic sounds forms a sinewy groove, that, oddly enough, hints at the project’s urban inspirational underpinnings. A snaky synth line carries the tune’s main melodic theme and recalls the laid-back production on — wait for it — Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. A hellafied gangsta lean it ain’t. But it’s an unusual and, yes, intriguing pairing of sounds.
Other tracks don’t fare quite as well. “Cardiff” skims too close to elevator music for comfort, any urban edge softened by an otherwise milquetoast arrangement. Depending on your taste, George Gershwin’s “Summertime/Brooklyn” is either clever or an abomination reimagined as a hip-hop slow jam. “Gangsta’s Lament” is, well, lamentable, a cartoonish pastiche of hip-hop and light jazz that would probably get 50 Cent shot … again.
There are brighter moments, however. “Jenna’s Waltz” is a lovingly played ode to Reynolds’ daughter. “Adobe Frijole” features a surprisingly menacing groove and a variety of captivating MIDI shenanigans. “Trick or Treat” is a fun, spooky Halloween romp that truly takes advantage of the myriad sounds at Reynolds’ disposal. And even in the record’s weaker thematic moments, his playing — as well as that of keyboardist Chuck Eller — is sparkling.
Graffiti is most often identified as a renegade art form, a critical component and reflection of hip-hop culture. Smooth jazz is typically viewed as the province of aging yuppies with ponytails, a safe and arguably misguided offshoot of a genre that was once the very soundtrack to counterculture. So, is Graffiti, which attempts to fuse the two at-odds disciplines, art or trash? It might be a little of both. But, as Reynolds observes at the conclusion of his liner notes, beauty and art are in the eye — and ear — of the beholder. And there is beauty to be found in Graffiti.
Graffiti by TerryToonz is available at terrytoonz.com.