Wendel Patrick: Sound:
Stinking Toe Tree

Wendel Patrick's Sound:, which melds hip-hop, electronic, funk, and soul-jazz into an oft-beguiling fifty-minute whole, is actually the work of Baltimore resident Kevin Gift who adopted the alias in memory of his twin brother who died in 1973 one week after a premature birth. Gift brings solid chops to the project: he's a classically trained pianist who grew up in Venezuela and Jamaica, played in a reggae band (at a pre-teen age), studied electronic music at an Atlanta college, and developed a passionate love for hip-hop, jazz, and other forms along the way.

With Sound: touching on so many stylistic bases, the album clearly demonstrates Gift's versatility but it also opens him up to charges of dilettantism. The aural evidence suggests otherwise by revealing him to be a musician with a sincere love for multiple forms, and the musical wherewithal to largely carry it off. Much of the material is remarkably rich in imagination, and packs a kaleidoscopic amount of detail into its oft-brief collages. The opening tracks are especially strong: harps and piano gently ease the listener into “Man Vs.” before the piano reverses itself and a propulsive hip-hop groove appears, after which a tabla-driven episode, its loops repeatedly cut off and restarted, segues into an old-school outro of turntable scratching and hip-hop breaks. “Stonezthrow” weds a loping hip-hop beat to brooding strings, then rapidly moves into a smooth drum'n'bass passage accompanied by a jazzy electric guitar solo. “Traffic” weds the raucous beat slam of old-school hip-hop with bleepy synth-funk, while acidy hip-hop lope meets sparkling piano lounge jazz in “Mazinger.” “Scanner” obviously suggests that it could be a Robin Rimbaud tribute and the spacey meander of ghostly synth melodies and jittery drum patterns doesn't argue against the possibility. The ruminative interlude “Planet Planetarium” drops a nice sitar motif into its restrained piano trio setting, and “Rest. Move” finds MC Napoleon Solo dropping rhymes in a laid-back style reminiscent of Fat Jon.

Though Gift infuses all of the tracks with a rich instrumental colour, Sound: is weakened by some sketchy moments and a few missteps. “My CD Has a Scratch” opens promisingly with a lazy hip-hop rhythm and shakers but is derailed by the stuttering seizures that arrest its flow throughout. The effect proves mildly amusing for a moment but annoying for longer, and the vocal version featuring Baltimore MC Salim's stumbling flow fares no better (the more conventional union of Salim's voice and hip-hop funk on “Mass Media II” succeeds considerably better). Chicken-scratch guitar, tablas, and spacey keyboards flow atmospherically during “Bass Trip” but the tune ends up seeming more a mood sketch than full-fledged composition, and the hidden track, which includes a superfluous phenomenological exegesis on the hidden track phenomenon, should have been excluded altogether. But such weaknesses are relatively few in an accomplished album that offers more than its share of satisfying moments. At the end of the day, hard-core hip-hop heads would probably deem Sound: too polite but Patrick's clearly not interested in serving only one community of listeners.

December 2007