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Record Reappraisal: Outside – Almost In

Outside’s debut album redefined what it is to be Acid Jazz

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Released 1993 via Dorado Records

Outside is an acid jazz group formed from the brainchild of Matt Cooper’s first project. Throughout the 90s, the group helped establish a reputation of “the perfect embodiment of progressive jazz” (URB Magazine, U.S). The band itself drew upon the funk, hip hop, soul and progressive style to create a new and original sound. Throughout the record, the presence of smooth and vivacious vocals compliment the sharp dissonant piano writing, leading to what is one of Outside’s most substantial albums.

The opening track ‘Movin’ On’ is reminiscent of soul-like duet vocals combined with a funk driven bass riff. As a track, it sounds most like their second album The Rough and the Smooth, using strong string tracks and a deep, dark male voice booming across the record. What a song to define the album; it’s packed full of character and is for me one of the group’s highlights.

Mid-album, the track ‘If You Come With Me’ sets a disconcerting synth track to a heavy hip hop beat, that almost makes you feel nauseated and violated. A strong flute solo permeates the majority of the track with jutting, dissonant chords, drawing in a psychedelic synth based journey. “If you come with me, and leave your world of pain” is a vocal riff that invites you into the strange insight of what “acid” jazz can really be.

The most perceptive song on the album seems to be ’11:08am’, which combines the heavy hip hop drum beat, with soulful vocals. The reappearance of a low male voice broods on the spoken word and scat-like piano chords, in what becomes a responsive relationship between the rhythm section and commanding voices. It truly represents the full sound and identity of the group: enterprising acid jazz, unafraid to subtly whisper and subdue your ear drums to excellence.

Outside, as one of the most experimental acid jazz groups, did not get a lot of press. From searching the web, the only place you can find them is to directly buy their CDs or find a vague few tracks on YouTube. They are without band page, publications, or reviews. This is somewhat a combination of the lack of press from the debut album, and the difficulty in releasing an album in a mainstream pop and indie driven decade.

Acid jazz in its nature is not what you think. It’s a wild confusion and complication of hip hop drum beats, funk driven riffs, soul vocals, synths amassing in a true experimentation of style. Some of the more well known groups you definitely would know are Matt Cooper’s later band Incognito and the well established Jamiroquai. In a decade driven by indie, boy bands, hip hop and pop, there was not room for a small experimental group Outside (excuse the pun) of the borders.

However the album and following four albums lead the way for Cooper to release his full artistic licence on those listening. In later albums, Outside delve into drum and bass, stronger soul and heavier hip hop, and really push the boundaries on what people would expect from a small acid jazz group. Almost In was aptly named, as for a newfound listener it is an introspective insight “almost in” to the genre and what it could do for you. It’s full of references to the soul, hip hop and funk influences of the prior decades and an enterprise into what they can do, in homage to the old and new. If you manage to listen and love what you hear, other recommendable albums are The Rough and the Smooth (1995) and Out of the Dark (2001).