Wax Poetic’s Nublu Sessions is your secret garden, your unmarked white door. So reads the booklet from this new album, the white door referring to the plain exterior of the club where the band resides in Manhattan. An image is painted of a bustling Brazilian scene with improvised cool, with the project – drummer Jochen Rueckert, guitarist Thor Madsen, bassist Jesse Murphy and singer Marla Turner – as its epicentre.
Wax Poetic is all about flexibility and adapting to its many guest vocalists, among whom are Norah Jones, who returns to her roots for two numbers – the opening Tell Me, asking “can I be strong and still belong”, and the gorgeous lower range vocal she gives on Angels. This one is a curiosity, an ethereal vocal effect at the outset spoilt a bit by the intervention of a basic hip hop rhythm but recovered by Jones’s honeyed tones.
Marla Turner’s voice lends an atmospheric quality to Della and Love, the setting clearly in a bustling club if you close your eyes for long enough. Also making a guest appearance is ex Brand New Heavies vocalist N’Dea Davenport, her track Sea Grass an unusual three beat deep house affair, undanceable in most respects but still a foot tapper.
At the other end of the scale is Saul Williams, whose Time vocal is a tense, edgy spoken word over a minimal kind of acoustic drum and bass – uneasy listening and making a powerful impact.
Sometimes the feeling is that Wax Poetic are trying to be too many styles at once, with conflicts between dub and deep house, trip hop, jazz and soul. Whilst this often makes for an intriguing cocktail it can occasionally misfire. Girl starts promisingly in a sub-Portishead kind of way but has a sweeter chorus to shatter the illusion. Flight In Dub, however, gets it just right, the contribution of U-Boy a treat, and Oriental Wind is an effective nu-jazzer with some nice clarinet and fretless bass action.
This is a mixed bag in every respect, and one whose good moments outweigh the not so good. It’s clear that Wax Poetic is a group teeming with influences and ideas, and the acoustic nature of the recording brings out their excellent musicianship. With a bit more coherence, perhaps, they could make a more convincing musical statement.