No Regular Play:
Recorded in the studio of New York City's Marcy Hotel in early summer 2012, Greg Paulus and Nicholas DeBruyn's debut No Regular Play album is an impeccably crafted affair—crisp and polished without any loss to its live feel. The two draw upon a rich background—their shared love for hip-hop and jazz (and artists such as A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, Miles Davis, and Herbie Hancock) as well as the trumpet technique Paulus developed while playing in jazz clubs and at the Manhattan School of Music—for the album's diverse, eleven-track foray into soul, jazz, hip-hop, and house.
In keeping with the title theme, the album begins with “Birdfeathers,” a luscious overture filled with resplendent synths, an emotive piano figure, breathy vocals, and lyrics focused on transformation (“My feathers fall to the ground”). The album's general style comes into clearer focus, however, in the hard-wired second cut, “Won't Quit,” an infectious exercise in synth-heavy vocal house-funk so tasty it could make someone like Jimmy Edgar jealous. The song plays to No Regular Play's strengths in another way, too, in the vocal counterpoint that makes the material impress as something more than a robo-funk club workout.
The title track immediately lays out a skulking, acid-house vibe in its first moments before morphing into a Matthew Dear-styled throwdown replete with an hypnotic vocal (“I'll save you from the predator / Forget that you're the prey / Tonight we are the hunters / It's the last time that we play”) and powered by an irresistibly jacking funk pulse. It's perhaps no surprise that a trace of Dear might be audible in the group's music, given that Paulus has for the past two years been part of Dear's live band. Hip-hop also finds its way into No Regular Play's material, as “Kickback” illustrates in backing rhymes by Wolf & Lamb newcomers The Real Live Show with Paulus's echoplexed trumpet and slinky live drumming by JT Bates, a Minneapolis-based free jazz skinsmith. The fusion of jazz and techno in “The Answer” (which features vocals and piano by Eliot Cardinaux, also an alumnus of the Manhattan School of Music) sounds like the product of a jam session involving Carl Craig and Weather Report. Throughout this consistently strong collection, Paulus and DeBruyn weave effortlessly between dance-floor bombs (the title track, the Prince-like “Card Game”) and soulful jams like “Keep It Right,” “Nameless,” and “Never Had Enough” that are sexy, languorous, and atmospheric by turn.