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Three. Stacks. Eliot Find Shared Ground Between Jazz and Hip-Hop

Aug. 27, 2014
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On the surface, jazz and hip-hop don’t seem to have much in common. The wildly improvisational spirit of jazz and the lyrical flow and beat-oriented nature of hip-hop can seem miles apart. Beneath the superficial disparities, however, there is a shared territory that one Milwaukee group is exploring.

Three. Stacks. Eliot is an instrumental collective that plays a brand of jazz fusion heavily indebted to hip-hop. Drummer Samuel Kacala, who performs under the stage name Samuel Lewis, said that the group’s sound arose out of a desire to combine the two genres in a way that would appeal to lovers of both. Using keyboards, drums, electric bass and synths, Three. Stacks. Eliot interprets the inventive nature of jazz in a beat-oriented way that lends itself to rapping.

Working with both jazz and hip-hop has been a natural process, according to Kacala, who names hip-hop producer Flying Lotus and jazz trio BadBadNotGood as influences. He hopes that by offering fans of hip-hop and jazz a new way into the music he can promote both genres to a wider audience. In addition, he wanted to combat what he sees as a stigma surrounding jazz.

“I wanted a way to make it relevant to me,” he said. “I felt like I had to go out of the way to listen to jazz.”

Original compositions by the group based on songs such as J. Cole’s “Power Trip” and Big Sean, Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “Clique” use the popularity of hip-hop as an entry point, and from there expand to extemporaneous jazz jamming built around hip-hop hooks. Kacala said that he doesn’t see the two genres as being musically far apart, and especially given that hip-hop doesn’t lend itself to covers, finding the interplay between the two allows for a rare reinterpretation of rap music.

As part of their effort to bridge the perhaps not-so-great gap between jazz and hip-hop, Three. Stacks. Eliot has been curating a monthly show at the Jazz Gallery Center for the Arts. Called Three. Stacks. Eliot Sessions, the series has been running since last August and features the group performing with different Milwaukee artists. The bookings lean toward rappers, such as Webster X and Vonny Del Fresco, and allow the group to perform their signature genre-fusing sound with a varied group of local artists. In addition, Kacala said the series offers many rappers the chance to do their first full performance for an audience, as opposed to a brief opening set.

Kacala said that he is most proud of the fact that the group has been able to bring in people from both the jazz and the hip-hop community. He said that the hip-hop scene has been more receptive to their music, a fact which he attributed to the incorporative nature of hip-hop, but they have found support among the sometimes more conservative jazz community as well, especially the jazz gallery and Milwaukee Jazz Vision.

“I want us to be more of a network because we’re in the middle of two scenes,” he said. There isn’t even a name yet for the style of music they perform, according to Lewis. However, the lack of definition isn’t holding them back, and perhaps even serves as a liberating factor for the group.

“We want to become as much of a melting pot as possible for as many styles of music as we can play,” Lewis said.

Three. Stacks. Eliot perform at the Jazz Gallery on Saturday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m.


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