July 29, 2009

Reinventing the Eel

San Francisco, CA
Produced, engineered and recorded by Unagi in San Francisco, CA Unagi’s

Reinventing the Eel, the DJ/producer’s eighth release since 2003, is a clinic in adapting light-hearted, laid-back, old-school grooves to a conventional context. Unagi the DJ finds some outstanding samples deep in the stacks, and he’s at his best when he’s on his own: the album’s strongest tracks are mostly instrumentals. But perhaps more promisingly, Unagi the producer deftly handles less-than-stellar MCs and keeps the album and your hips moving.

If Unagi would have trusted his own hand a bit more, this album would be a versatile, fun party mix, and to a great extent it still is. And the guest MCs aren’t all bad. Gigio’s vocals on “Come Get It” ignite the track’s funky underbelly, and Unagi’s work with Motion Man on “Grown Man Flowin” sounds a bit like Eyedea & Abilities at their best. But those exceptions aside, Reinventing the Eel’s guest MCs drag down an album laced with tight bass lines, punchy horn samples and short songs that keep you wanting to hear what’s next.

This album screams for a remix, hopefully from Unagi himself. Reinventing the Eel taps into the feeling of stepping onto a dance floor with just a little bit of a buzz. Its beats make you smile, even if there’s occasionally enough smooth jazz laid over the top to make a less-courageous DJ blush. “Herb Man Theme” seems to revel in its flute line, which almost had to have been played by a man with a mustache and a red crushedvelvet jacket sometime in the mid- to late-1970s.

But Unagi successfully navigates the tricky waters between hip-hop and jazz on the album’s first track, “Liftoff,” using a Glenn Gould-y piano melody to add texture to a stock boom-bap. In sum, a good album that could have been great. (self-released)
-Dan Weber


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