Shades of Jade Is That One

There’s something in the water, and whatever it is it’s giving rise to a smooth, neo-soul tinged jazz/R&B renaissance. D’Angelo led the charge nationwide with Black Messiah, and Kendrick Lamar took what was laid down and rearranged it in To Pimp a Butterfly. Likewise, locally, a few bands are picking up on this shift and moving back through musical history to make what is old new again. The Phantastics and iLLPHONiCS are slowing down hip hop and jazz and infusing it with soul to create sounds that have that clear and smooth feel of a smoky club.

Joining these bands, Green Lady Lounge regulars, Shades of Jade, compose songs that have a sense of timelessness. The Kansas City based band leans more toward the jazz end of the spectrum than the aforementioned acts. Shades of Jade’s material is mostly instrumental–long strings of smooth horns and piano accompaniment held together by a soft percussion.  Comparisons to Hermon Mehari or John Klemmer wouldn’t be unfounded.

That said, the band’s latest release, “That One,” shifts toward an R&B feel with its lush vocal melodies. In many ways, the song stays true to Shades of Jade’s cool jazz. But, in many ways, the song pushes into new territory. Part of the reason for this new feel is Derick Cunigan’s vocals. The local singer’s injects a bit of fire in the otherwise cool smoothness of the track.

This juxtaposition between the music’s smooth grooves and the vocals’ passionate unfurling does a lot to give “That One” a tension that snaps each part into place. Despite the lyrics’ unfettered male gaze, there seems to be a sincerity to the speaker that undercuts the traditional/patriarchal gender roles described in the song. Truly, Cunigan’s voice masterfully flips through a persona trying to woe back his lover without ever fully acquiescing into a sense of (un)deserved possession.

But to listen to “That One” and gripe over what the song means for feminism or the patriarchy in a general sense is to miss out on the song’s power. From the blue horn melodies that start the song to Cunigan’s stunning harmonies, “That One” unspools like a mellow brandy. Its aural warmth invites its listeners in and lets them linger through its meandering–a feat that is as hard to pull off as it is easy to listen to.

While Shades of Jade doesn’t have any shows booked at the moment, keep an eye on local jazz clubs. The Kansas City band puts on a show that is as sonically polished as their recordings but with a presence that only live music can instill into each note. Shades of Jade is an act to catch live, but until they next play out, their single “That One” will tide you over with its cool grooves.

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