It seems that every major jazz artist has a one-off sort of record in their discography, be it with strings, voices, spoken word or - as in this case - a foray into the funkier side of jazz. Charlie Rouse (going here as Charles Rouse) gets his chance on "Two Is One", a funky soul jazz excursion on Strata-East, the artist-run label where creativity and pushing boundaries was at the forefront. Playing mostly with a group of session musicians, Rouse put together an album that may stray a bit from his hard bop roots, but is nonetheless an enjoyable and at times inventive record. The style of music played here - sophisticated soul jazz with some post bop and spiritual jazz thrown in for good measure - is very much a product of it's time. 1974 saw a whole slew of artists stretching the boundaries of what jazz music could be, combining elements from the past two decades into electric jazz adventures. The piano-less group that Rouse put together is a funky one, with lots of rhythmic playing behind either the searching solos of Rouse on the tenor or some inventive electric guitar work from either George Davis or Paul Metzke who appear together on all but a couple of tracks. Calo Scott gets plenty of time to shine throughout on what sounds like an electrified cello, an unusual instrument for modern jazz to be sure, but one that manages to fit in just fine here. The first side of the album is all slow burning soul jazz, highlighted by the opening track "Bitchin'" where Rouse shows off that he is more than capable of setting down soulful lines over a funky backbeat. The second side is where the group gets a whole lot more inventive, particularly on the title track where they mix some post bop madness with the soul jazz sound. "Two Is One" features different tempos throughout: in the 'first section' the bass plays in 9/8 time, the drums in 6/8 time and the cello and tenor are in 3/4 time. For the 'second section' the rhythm section switches to 7/8 time while cello and tenor move to 4/4 time. Stanley Clarke is on bass here and his deep and twisty electric bass line is placed prominently up front. "Two Is One" is certainly the highlight of the album from a pure jazz standpoint, and it lives up to it's title, which according to Gene Lewis' liner notes is taken from a Thelonious Monk phrase meaning two people so in tune with one another that they become one. The album finishes off with "In His Presence Searching", a spiritually informed jazz number that is reminiscent of the work being done during this period by the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Gary Bartz, (while not being quite as out there as their best work). The tune is all rhythmic glory, with Rouse and Scott playing introspective and penetrating solos throughout. It's a nice album closer, and a good reminder that while "Two Is One" may be best known for it's funkier excursions, Rouse had a few tricks up his sleeve and the album, when taken as a whole, is a complete statement from a legendary jazz musician.
Charles Rouse: Two Is One