CD Reviews: Soul Kata and Ramona Falls

Soul KataHere I Am (Broken Time Records)Aside from the "jazz lite" you hear on 98.9 FM, there's typically not much worse than cheesy, keyboard-heavy lounge jazz. But when done right, contemporary smooth jazz has its merits. On Soul Kata's second album, Here I Am, released earlier this month, there are moments, on compositions like "The Game" or "We Still Remain the Same," where the groove is thick in all the right places. The Seattle four-piece, led by vocalist Katrina Wible, invokes memories of Diana Krall or early Greta Matassa, though their style is noticeably less straight-ahead. There are other times, though, when the band seems torn between that and a more pop-jazz sound, and that's where things go awry. "Til Love is Here" is one of the more upbeat tunes on the record, but it comes out flat as the refrain doesn't take listeners anywhere. Pianist Josh Rawlings, bassist Nate Omdal, and drummer Will Holliday are capable players, as evidenced on songs like "Don't Ever Go" and the Norah Jones–esque "What Should I Do." Still, the album, while a game sophomore effort, never fully congeals. Catching the band in a live setting might be more enjoyable, especially if the band doesn't veer too far from its own pocket and the horn section is given more room to stretch out. JONATHAN CUNNINGHAMRamona FallsIntuit (Barsuk)There's a staccato rhythm surging throughout Intuit, the debut release by Ramona Falls. The electro-indie project is a solo record by Brent Knopf, the multi-instrumentalist best known as one-third of Portland experimental darlings Menomena. And while there are plenty of comparisons to be made here—both bands feature looping beats and songs with trance-inducing instrumental interludes—Knopf takes steady, deliberate steps to distance Intuit from Menomena's most recent album, Friend or Foe. The first is the album's pulse, created by drum beats, repeated acoustic guitar chords, and a piano. The repetition of single piano notes—just one key being struck forcefully—appears periodically on the album. It's most obvious on "I Say Fever," where that beat pattern is partnered with Knopf's breathy falsetto. There's also a notable sense of urgency on Intuit, as if Knopf feels he's got a point to make and can't make it fast enough. Plenty will be made of the fact that Ramona Falls includes 35 different musicians on its debut recording, most of them from Portland, including Janet Weiss and the band Loch Lomond. But ultimately Intuit is about the weight of a solo project and enacting a single musical vision, best noted in the lyrics of "Meletric," the opening track: "Now I struggle to believe.../I'm capable.../of waking up these dreams." PAIGE RICHMOND

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