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Cadence

Frost-Free (2000)

5.0

September 22, 2001

Tuning / Blend 5.0
Energy / Intensity 5.0
Innovation / Creativity 5.0
Soloists 4.7
Sound / Production 5.0
Repeat Listenability 5.0
Tracks
1 Spinning Wheel 5.0
2 Boogie On Reggae Woman 5.0
3 Straighten Up and Fly Right 5.0
4 Lullaby for Hannah 4.3
5 Slim Punky's Dilemma 4.7
6 Shape of My Heart 5.0
7 Drive My Car 5.0
8 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) 4.7
9 Brown-Eyed Girl 4.3
10 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego 4.7
11 I Wish 5.0
12 She's Got a Way 5.0
13 chatter and outtakes (unlisted) 4.5

Recorded 2000
Total time: 42:27, 13 songs


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Spinning Wheel 5
2 Boogie On Reggae Woman 5
3 Straighten Up and Fly Right 5
4 Lullaby for Hannah 5
5 Slim Punky's Dilemma 5
6 Shape of My Heart 5
7 Drive My Car 5
8 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) 5
9 Brown-Eyed Girl 5
10 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego 5
11 I Wish 5
12 She's Got a Way 5
13 chatter and outtakes (unlisted) 5

Elegant, energetic and inventive, Cadence's latest release, Frost Free, catapults the Canadian quartet into the ranks of the must-own. Authentic jazz, pop, rock, and funk not only fill the CD, but interact, forming delicious organic fusions, such as the Sir George Martin-esque arrangement of Slim Punky's Dilemma. This track is easily the most innovative of the year. Combine four solid voices with exacting attention to musicality and add first-rate production values: the result is a tray hog; this release gets way more than its fair share of spins in my player.

Gems in the treasure chest:
exemplary, tasteful autotuning, resulting in flawless intonation throughout; creative and catchy arranging, willing to use dense chords to effect, but simultaneously unafraid of simplicity and carefully attuned to the role of production as an arranging tool; soloists perfectly matched to their leads; if any of these guys have vocal shortcomings, they have been left behind, deleted in the trash bin of a ProTools rig; instrumental imitation that can evoke a "wow": the best harmonica solo (Reggae Woman) and trumpet solo (Straighten Up and Fly Right) I have heard in years; songs so well-placed and artfully mastered that the listener experiences something akin to a concert, rather than a jarring progression of songs.

On with the gush:
Frost-free is also proof that you can breathe life into even done-to death standards (Brown-Eyed Girl; Shape of My Heart) if you do so with pervasive musicality. It's also no small matter to successfully cover Stevie Wonder (Reggae Woman, I Wish).

Criticisms:
The art design left me a little cold. And some less than flattering pictures of Cadence may spoil the glowing image their sound inspires.

Summary:
Cadence's Frost Free. Buy it. Own it. Love it.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 5
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Spinning Wheel 5
2 Boogie On Reggae Woman 5
3 Straighten Up and Fly Right 5
4 Lullaby for Hannah 4
5 Slim Punky's Dilemma 4
6 Shape of My Heart 5
7 Drive My Car 5
8 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) 5
9 Brown-Eyed Girl 4
10 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego 4
11 I Wish 5
12 She's Got a Way 5

It's probably poor form in August to discuss what my entries for RARB Picks will be at the end of this year, but who cares — something pretty extraordinary would have to come along to displace the Canadian quartet Cadence's debut release Frost Free from my list.

From the opening moments of the first track, a funkified revisiting of what-I-previously-thought-was-an-overdone Spinning Wheel, I was hooked. The sound is clear, crisp and tight — the result of talented singers, no doubt, but also a tribute to the work of engineer/mixer/co-producer Adam Messinger. The syncopated backgrounds, resonant bass, and rock-solid percussion in the up-tempo songs had me wanting to get up and dance, while the excellent blend, precise intonation and sweet solos will carry you through the album's mellower moments.

I could go song by song and point out what I think is so terrific about these guys — and I will single out a few of my faves below — but one caveat first. This is a quartet; what you hear on the album sounds sometimes like almost twice that number. That is to say, Cadence makes ample use of what have become pretty much the standard, run-of-the-mill a cappella studio tricks (sampling, overdubbing, doubling, processing, etc.), in particular with respect to their vocal percussion (which goes uncredited in the liner notes). Fact is though, the results are so damn good, the tricks don't bother me nearly as much as they might on another less inventive, less polished presentation. Only thing is, while this disc will definitely remain in my CD changer for a while, I don't know if I'd be as interested in seeing the group live — unless Jeff Thacher happened to be in the neighborhood and decided to sit in.

So that's about the most negative thing I can say about Cadence. As for my particular favorites, just a few would include: not one, but two kick-butt Stevie Wonder covers with the group's two equally terrific tenors each taking a shot at a classic, both pulling off the soul and groove without being slavishly imitative; a fabulous re-imagination of The Beatles' Drive My Car which could serve a primer for how to take an old song and make it completely fresh; and Straighten Up and Fly Right and The 59th Bridge Song, which prove that an old song can also sound just fine without anything fancy — just a first rate arrangement and top-notch musicianship.

When the 2001 CARAs were announced and I saw that some unknown (to me) 4-man Canadian group had won Best Pop/Rock album and Best Pop/Rock Cover (for I Wish, one of the two aforementioned Stevie covers), I thought there had been some mistake. Needless to say, I now know the truth. No mistake. These guys are the real deal. Awesome.


Tuning / Blend 5
Energy / Intensity 5
Innovation / Creativity 5
Soloists 4
Sound / Production 5
Repeat Listenability 5
Tracks
1 Spinning Wheel 5
2 Boogie On Reggae Woman 5
3 Straighten Up and Fly Right 5
4 Lullaby for Hannah 4
5 Slim Punky's Dilemma 5
6 Shape of My Heart 5
7 Drive My Car 5
8 The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy) 4
9 Brown-Eyed Girl 4
10 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego 5
11 I Wish 5
12 She's Got a Way 5
13 chatter and outtakes (unlisted) 4

I'm impressed! This debut CD from Toronto's fledgling four-man vocal band, Cadence, is stellar. Their sound is tight, clean, and energetic, and they cover a great selection of jazz, funk, classic rock, and modern stuff, all from a sensible, jazzy perspective. They have inherited their angle from York University's Wibijazz'n', the group where these four met. It works. Well.

Their sound is spectacular. Kevin Fox turns in solid yet agile bass grooves on track after track, and the rest of the backgrounds ride above equally nimbly and excitingly. All voices are focused, smooth and accurate. I never cringe at a reach for a note or a rhythm that's not quite on. The percussion is beautifully executed (great cowbell and scratching!) and layered well. The arrangements have terrific riffs, and the soloists (words and scat) toss around some great licks. The production is awesome. Engineer Adam Messinger should be commended. Any group, collegiate or otherwise, aiming for that hyper-produced, multi-layered sound should have a listen to this to see that you can let the computers do some of the work for you, without removing the zest and joy of singing that comes across so well on Frost-Free.

The track list is an original mix of funk, rock, jazz, and a stray spiritual, and it flows together very well. The strong Spinning Wheel opener lands right into the four-plus minutes of funk that are Boogie On Reggae Woman (one of two Stevie Wonder tracks here). And then they drop you into a strolling, charming Straighten Up and Fly Right, a suavely executed Nat King Cole tune. What a way to introduce themselves.

They reinvent some songs in different styles, too. Slim Punky's Dilemma takes Simon and Garfunkel's tune and throws in solid rap sections, taking snippets from Eminem, Dr. Dre, Ton Loc, the Beastie Boys, and others. I don't really see the connection, but it's fun! It's not like the original song made all that much sense to begin with. Their reinterpretation of Drive My Car is a slow, eerie, trip-hop venture that came nowhere near offending me or any other Beatles purist I've played this to. The liner notes seem to be aiming for the oddball image, although I see this group as far more funky than kooky. You wouldn't expect goofs to groove like this.

The only drawback to the disc is the one original song, Lullaby for Hannah. I guess lullabyes are supposed to put people to sleep, and this one could certainly do the trick. It's very simple and sweet, and is way out of its league with the rest of the tracks here. I'd love to see more originals from Cadence, but I'd like to see them go for the funk and jazz-fusion. I'd love to hear vocal-instrumental tracks from them. Maybe even some Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock...these guys have such a talent for studio work, I'd like to see them push the limits.

Cadence, good job! Hopefully Frost-Free has given you the confidence that you can turn out a kick-ass disc. Take that confidence and run, rock, and groove. And, by all means, keep covering Stevie.

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Ordering Information

For current ordering information, contact the group by email at info@cadence-unplugged.com.

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