In the upbeat cant of the Caribbean, "jump up" means "get down," which is precisely what saxman Oliver Lake and company do on the album named for his new band and philosophy.
"Jump Up" manages to give jazz/rock fusion a leg up, meet the challenge of reggae and put dancin' ants in the pants of anybody who's listening. Whatever the merits of Elton John's new release by the same name, there's no way to confuse the two albums.
Although Lake has more commonly been associated with the Return To Forever school of neo-traditional jazz/rock fusion, here he's let his imagination carry him to new territories, which he promptly claims as his own. On "Consume" and "Ska'd to Move," he's polyrhythmic, approximating the "harmolodics" of James "Blood" Ulmer and Ornette Coleman. On "Sun People" and "One Foot," he blows with the dulcet sensuality of Coleman as well. And on "Don't Go Crazy," he borrows New York street-rap and slyly hands it back to the Jamaican DJs' voice-over-the-music toasting tradition, whence it came.
But as mentioned, "Jump Up" is also the name of Lake's band, without whom he couldn't have sailed these sonorous seas so smoothly. Bassists Billy Grant and Jerome Harris (and particularly Harris) never let their reggae variants get stale; their contribution is a savvy progressivism that refuses to progress out of context. They leave it to drummer Pheeroan Ak Laff to funk up the mix, which he does in a most danceable manner. Throughout, guitarist Alfonia Timms scratches and pecks his way along an Ulmeresque line of humor and good taste, throwing out the more-than-occasional jazz/funk tidbit.
The real fun about "Jump Up" is that Lake and friends brew up this funky fusion without making it seem hard or ponderous. The music is far from forced or strained, unless you want to count the difficulty of taking it sitting down. Not only is every song danceable, they're all clean enough, or at least subtle enough, to be played on the air -- especially "Trouble," a Jamaica-flavored tune shot through with pure pop.
Nothing against Lake's previous work, but after "Jump Up," it's hard to imagine him taking a step backward to neo-jazzland. It'll be interesting to see what musical forms he experiments with next.
THE ALBUM -- Oliver Lake/Jump Up, "Jump Up," Gramavision GR 8105.
THE SHOW -- Friday at the 9:30 Club.