The so-called acid jazz movement that peaked in the early ’90s was a lot like the white blues revival of the late ’60s: most of the prime movers, while respectful enough, were too young to really grasp the significance of their source material. Hence, it became as much a fashion statement as a bona fide musical (r)evolution. Working as US3, Londoners Geoff Wilkinson and Mel Simpson — thirtysomething jazzbos making their livelihoods in journalism and concert promotion (Wilkinson) and studio work (Simpson) — proved the exception to the rule. Commingling serious players, street-savvy rappers and cleverly deployed hard bop samples, they created a sound at once cerebrally and pelvically involving.
The fluid aggregation had its biggest hit with “Cantaloop (Flip Fantasia),” which spiraled an incredibly catchy — if somewhat fluffy — tune from a vintage Benny Green sample. For that song, and the rest of Hand on the Torch, Simpson and Wilkinson dip deep into their record collections (contractually including the entire Blue Note archive) to bite from sides by Art Blakey and Thelonious Monk. Over the top of their tracks, the English and American rappers (Rahsaan, Tukka Yoot and Kobie Powell) spin tales that range from the intense (the penitentiary paean “Eleven Long Years”) to the inane (the crotch-grabbing “I Got It Goin’ On”).