Plate Fork Knife Spoon
Plate Fork Knife Spoon
s the non-rapping component of Oakland’s live hip-hop crew the Crown City Rockers, the musicians who comprise jazz-funk trio Plate Fork Knife Spoon are used to laying down the smoove for their emcee Raashan Ahmad’s easy flow. Though tamer than the likes of the Roots, the pleasant, rubbery tracks on the Rockers’ 2004 debut Earthtones seemed a good use of a Berklee School of Music trained rhythm section, one that had the sense to snag themselves a mellow Californian rapper. On the other hand, the fact that the Crown City Rockers make hip-hop I enjoy should probably give you pause.
Similarly, though this debut in their new vocal-free incarnation might strike one as soporific, strictly wine-and-cheese type of funk, I found it enjoyable and cozily middlebrow. Like a groovy elevator ride to the men’s department, the atmosphere on this eponymous disc is at least as reminiscent of the anonymous easy-listening that once filled our waiting rooms and shopping outlets as it is of jazz or funk. I, for one, miss that stuff—it became a cherished part of the aesthetic fabric of my life, as it clearly did for bands like the Sea and Cake or the Aluminum Group. I don’t think the gang in Plate Fork Knife Spoon are consciously trying to evoke that curious ambience, they just can’t help it. A certain individual in my proximity remarked with a scowl that the band sounded “white,” just about the worst thing you can say for any outfit that gets lumped under the category of funk. I prefer to say that the music fades artlessly into the background regardless of the tricky syncopations. But again, as the whitest guy in any room, the fact that Plate Fork Knife Spoon makes jazz-funk I enjoy should probably give you pause as well.
In fairness, I do actually own a copy of Herbie Hancock’s 1973 groove masterpiece Headhunters, so I’m not completely ignorant of this sub-genre’s pinnacles. But that record has at least some of the high-wire improvs Hancock grew to become known for during his tenure with Miles Davis. Plate Fork Knife Spoon aren’t that high-octane of a unit and would probably get a bitch-slap from Miles should the Almighty deign to reanimate the late genius and place him in an ill-conceived session with these well meaning performers. But they’re not pretenders either, and tunes like the floating “Creep” may be undemanding but still reward closer listening with smart playing all around and especially nice contributions from keyboardist Kat Ouano. The grittier chords she employs in tunes like “D MotherFucker D” and “Point” are a welcome element, too. Play more of those.
Like minded musicians such as Medeski, Martin and Wood or Soulive may be braver in their explorations, but Plate Fork Knife Spoon offer their own simpler pleasures. I’m a sucker for electric piano and there’s an abundance of tasty, bluesy chords that hover and drizzle throughout this release. And though none of these themes are outstanding, they’re not trite either. If you’re interested in some solid, modest funk that doesn’t sweat and dresses nice, there might be something here for you too.
Reviewed by: Chuck Zak
Reviewed on: 2005-05-11