Instrumentally smooth brushstrokes paint cool watercolors that extend beyond the canvas of genre on two new full-length jazz-leaning releases. Paseo Street Walkers’ self-titled effort plays light and loose while dipping into rock and latin flavors; Culture Cinematic builds on tight, R&B-influenced rhythms with its album, The New Dark Ages. Both rely on a standard guitar/drums/keyboards lineup, frequently with lead female vocals, but they explore remarkably different territory. Nonetheless, their hearts and minds are in the same place.
Paseo Street Walkers opens with a piano melody that slowly branches into soft electric and bass guitars, organ, and light cymbals. This track, “Potato Hills,” continues to flourish breezily for the next five minutes as the vocalist elegantly describes a symbolic place of refuge from life’s harshness. It’s a fitting start, as the album is a headphone-worthy escape in its own right.
The rest of the album is just as laid back, but that isn’t to say that it remains soft and delicate. “Stay Easy,” for instance, is a brisk, funky jam that gives the six-piece plenty of opportunity to casually showboat. Other tracks also throw a few unexpected colors into the mix. “Limbo” brings in classically flavored acoustic guitar that goes well with the record’s occasional use of hand drums. “Blue & Grey” and “Vagabond” feature French and Spanish lyrics respectively, delivered with free-flowing personality. “Cold Money” even features reverbed dialogue samples that take full advantage of the left and right stereo channels.
Half of the album is purely instrumental, so when lyrics do show up, they make smart use of their time. One obvious highlight is “Streetwalker,” an upbeat yet bittersweet ode to the band’s namesake. The lines “Sewer rats and street lights / Short days and long nights / Money brings my day to an end” kick off the song with a conflicting note. It romanticizes the historic arts district while recognizing the economic conditions that often comes with it. A guitar solo later reflects this with fuzzy, wah-wah distortion that sounds like a rock ‘n roll party while tapping ever so slightly into the blues.
Paseo Street Walkers has a uniquely multicultural scope that resonates not only with the artistic flavors of The Paseo’s many galleries but also with the heart of the district, its community. Admittedly, the melting pot approach is more of a ceiling than a cornerstone here, but it nonetheless provides a welcoming, local dimension not found in the standard jazz album. For listeners out for an easygoing, high-brow listen that differentiates itself in subtle ways rather than overt ones, Paseo Street Walkers is an ideal choice.
Culture Cinematic, on the other hand, draws inspiration from other sources. Album highlight “Water” starts the band’s LP, The New Dark Ages, with a bold blend of R&B, jazz, and hip-hop. With a guest rap and record scratches accompanying the soulful keyboard work and crisp drums, it sizzles with urban spirit. The track name springs from the chorus, which proclaims “It’s got to be easier than this / It’s gotta flow like water.” The song grapples with facing life’s pains and stresses through music while doing so in itself.
From there, the album gets darker and moodier, though the following track eases the listener into it. “Time and Place” is subdued and wistful, resting on distant synths and soft keys. The lead female vocalist carries this track, singing breathfully to her lover about the good times with an occasional spoken aside. She sells a particularly nice moment part-way through, cooing “If you’d just give me one more chance / I promise I’ll make everything…I’ll make…..ooh…..” This creates a suspense that lingers for a few more bars until a minute-long guitar solo picks up the segue.
“Silence” and “Get It Grrl 2.0” both deal in heavier topics, namely romantic breakups and the perils of denial and secrecy. “Evening Bell” even features a meaningful guest rap from Jabee, who signs off with the symbolic line “Light shines when the day just starts / Night time when the day turns dark / Write rhymes on the page of my heart, my heart.”
The album has its share of instrumental compositions, too, most notably “A Life Worth Living,” which is the only track to showcase the band’s drum and bass influences. It springs from an atypical time signature that is shared among quiet, guidepost keyboards, a prominent bass line, and tight rhythms, the latter of which are hyper yet restrained. As non-lyrical vocals creep in and out, the track builds, peaking at last in a flourish of emotion.
As the group’s Bandcamp page reads, “In times of darkness, a little light can lead the way. This is our light.” The title, then, does not describe the music itself, but is rather a reflection of the circumstances that necessitate it. The New Dark Ages doesn’t manage to fight off the bad vibes without occasionally dipping into them itself, but there’s an honesty to that approach that lends more power to the cause. It’s also simply a great listen, melding old school hip-hop grooves with feel-good jazz musicianship.
Both of these albums speak to the diversity of Oklahoma City, and they understand the importance of music in coping with life’s hardships. These records have been in the works for a couple of years, but the bands have been around much longer, honing their craft and tightening their chemistry. It’s been a long road, so it’s good to see that Culture Cinematic and Paseo Street Walkers are still committed to their respective styles, unyielding to the sort of easy listening, smooth jazz kitsch and cover tunes that could possibly get them more work. Last year, when local fusion act Peach reluctantly called it quits after years of unfruitful hustle, it felt like a sign that fringe genres in Oklahoma City might be left out of the so-called renaissance. The determination in these two releases, however, puts that concern to a sweet, sweet rest.
This article was originally written for Cellar Door Music Group (cellardoormusicgroup.com). It is archived here with the publisher’s permission.