Jasper & the Prodigal Suns

  • Jasper & the Prodigal Suns
  • Everything Is Everything (Geffen) 1995 
  • People Get Ready EP (CherryDisc) 1995 

Having led one version of the group in Atlanta, singer/guitarist Jasper moved to Boston in 1992 and formed a new quintet there, providing hip-hop with an invigorating jolt of kitchen-sink ethics. The combination of live beats, guitar, steel drums, bass and saxophone yield results that are funky, frenetic and diverse: Rastafarianism, hip-hop, jazz (free and bop), calypso, blues and soul influences drive a danceable, spiritual message to both the brain and the booty.

While occasionally suggesting a blend of such contemporaries as G Love (a close friend whose guitar style Jasper’s resembles), Soul Coughing (a quartet that uses samples where the Prodigal Suns prefer sax and Trinidadian percussion), Ben Harper and San Francisco new-jazz progenitors like Broun Fellinis, Jasper & the Prodigal Suns ultimately possess a singular sound. Prior to making the six-song People Get Ready EP, saxophonist Jim Hobbs, drummer D’jango Corranza and bassist Timo Shanko — seasoned as street musicians — had already been playing regularly on the Boston scene as the Fully Celebrated Orchestra; percussionist Mackie Burnett, a 62-year-old native of Trinidad, was Corranza’s drum teacher. Jasper’s a natural frontman; with his righteous confidence (“Tough Guy”), declarations (“The Free Style”) and personal reflections (“Sincerely Jasper”), the debut is razor sharp and an excellent companion to the full-length follow-up.

Everything Is Everything unleashes major grooves immediately, as Corranza and Shanko lock in on the beats bolstering “Peace & One Love.” Burnett’s percussive energy bubbles along with the rhythm section as Hobbs leads the five-piece into bursts of mid-tempo improv on “Word to the Mother,” Jasper’s ode to Africa. The singer drops knowledge on identity (“All Brothers Ain’t Brothers”) and tries a different, more soulful version of “Sincerely Jasper.” Complete with samples and antic instrumentation (Burnett and Hobbs are fired up), “Give Me a Bomb” is the ultimate companion to Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy’s “Television (Drug of a Nation).” The tender “Without You,” the vivid “Babylon Is Falling,” the Rastacentric “Thanks & Praise” and the party flavor of the autobiographical “Only in the South” give Everything Is Everything a well-rounded confidence and a warm, familial quality.

[Mark Woodlief]