Beware of flammable objects, there's flames in the kitchen
February proved to be a staggeringly brilliant month for releases from the musical underground, and the debut EP from Dublin stage-fillers Cooks But We're Chefs certainly deserves to be included in that category. Sports Day is a tight, four-song introduction to a band that everyone should be getting themselves familiar with, fusing jazz instrumentation and inventive vocal performances together to create a project that the Irish nine-piece should be incredibly proud of.
Opening with 'Mode 2', Cooks But We're Chefs' ('Cooks' for brevity) synthesis of Dougie Sealy's bass grooves, Luke O'Dwyer's soft and soulful keys and an alluringly chilled-out performance from drummer Daniel Kearns provides an excellent basis for this first track. Perhaps this song is a little slow to get going compared to the downright phenomenal tracks that follow it, with a first verse from Methembe Thabani Mafu that is admittedly underwhelming in flow and lyrical creativity when compared to the incinerating performances that he is capable of, but as Síofra Nolan's voice comes to the front in the tune's first chorus the song picks up a great deal of momentum. Her voice is serene on top of the fusion of genres provided by the band, but her tone still has a bite to it that lands very well in her moments at the centre of attention.
With his second verse, Mafu offers something immediately more interesting than his first verse as the rapper kicks into gear. Particularly as the EP moves forward, I feel confident in saying that I really have not heard a vocalist offer this kind of expertly crafted melodically-twinged hip-hop anywhere before. His delivery is always tasty; straddling similarities between the tone of a because the internet-era Childish Gambino and an intelligent flow that wouldn't feel out of place on a Q-Tip record, but reducing Methembe Thabani Mafu's delivery to comparisons with other hip-hop artists would be doing this vocalist a disservice, being totally excellent in his own right.
'Mode 2' closes with a showcase of Nolan's clear vocal talents, Sports Day moves on like a bell curve of quality, past a good opener and into two songs that are absolutely, unmistakably and utterly phenomenal. Lead single 'Stella Maris' made waves last month, and deservedly so. When someone talks to me about 'jazz rap' (whatever that *really* means) this is a perfect example of exactly what I want to hear. Gorgeously realised horns, smooth chords and a fusion of three vocalists that know precisely what they are doing. Before I start gushing over the vocal performances of 'Stella Maris', I would be remiss to ignore some of the more subtle (but entirely integral) contributions from this ensemble. Malachi Fitzgerald Graham's guitar work on this piece is in danger of being overlooked when surrounded by inch-perfect playing from this cast of Cooks, but their percussive dead-notes and beautifully dialled rhythm tone represents an unsung performance at the heart of this screamer of a tune.
Dougie Sealy again puts forward himself excellently on the bass, and those fat slides at [1:31] have not gone unappreciated. The bass is jumpy and underlines the single exceptionally well, and some of the fills on this track are quickly becoming ingrained in my memory - they are simply that good. If you're reading this Dougie, what you did at [2:02-2:06] was actual filth, and I want you to know that I literally *scream* every time I hear that fill. Moving to the vocalists, Nolan puts her talent to the front of 'Stella Maris', combining not only exceptional vocal control with a tight delivery of fast-paced and creative lyricism, bound together with a perfect understanding of how to manipulate rhyme into providing momentum to her verse. As her melody fades away, Jesse Russell takes his place as vocalist, setting aside his trumpet to deliver an effortlessly relaxed continuation of Nolan's lyrical ideas. I want to hear Russell on the mic more, and I'm sure that will come to pass in future releases from this jazzy kitchen, because his delivery on 'Stella Maris' is incredibly interesting. His flow is so laid back I'd be surprised if he didn't record the whole verse lying down on the floor, and everything becomes satisfyingly tethered together with some awfully brilliant key stabs from O'Dwyer.
Then, it's Methembe's turn - and oh my god. This verse doesn't just begin, it smashes into the song with the unrelenting force of a wrecking ball. I challenge you to try and keep your head still when listening to Mafu's bars on this track, but I'm convinced that it is simply impossible not to get wrapped up by the track's momentum. The energy that this verse injects into the track is unbelievable, powered by the vocalist's ability to shape the entire feel of the tune through his inventive deployment of clever cadence's and intriguing rhythms. Cooks' horn section (Daniel Coyne, Christian Bauer and the aforementioned Russell) does gorgeously to spice the jazzy stew that the group is "chef'in up" throughout the track, all before the group decides to let loose and just go full fucking 'Caravan', powering their way through the song's final act. For the last gasps of 'Stella Maris', Mafu shows us all exactly how gifted an artist he is, stitching together relentless rhymes and joyously erratic lyrical creativity to round the single out as a house-shaking moment on an excellent EP.
The stand out track of Sports Day for us however, (despite the success of 'Stella Maris') is following track 'Tembé Road'. Soft keys, distant horns and muted guitars lead you into the tune, but this is song truly belongs to Mafu. His voice perfectly compliments the relaxed vibe of Cooks' warm sounds, but 'Tembé Road' definitely distinguishes this vocalist as a uniquely talented individual, not only within their band, but within the wider realm of jazz fusion.
This is a mesmerisingly complete vocal performance from the performer. Internal rhymes spiral inwardly as a demonstration of clear lyrical inventiveness, but the vocalist's experimentation with cadence and melody within his rapping is something I have never heard like this before, and I need to hear more. Particularly at [2:39-2:42] "when you going, when you flowing with the jazz" Mafu's melodic delivery is gorgeous. I cannot stress how much this short, three-second-long moment of the song makes me feel. I have listened to this song just to hear his delivery of that line many times, and that's not to discredit how phenomenal the song is in it's own right. I simply love how that one line meshes together with the band and I would love to hear more of their music explore this kind of sound in the future. Great song.
The EP closes out with 'Don't You Forget'. Like I said, I do consider the quality of this project to sit somewhat on a bell curve - all the songs are good of course, but those two 'middle' tracks are exceptional. The final track is less jazz, and more of a jumpy pop-rap. The EP absolutely demonstrates incredible versatility from all nine of the performers, but I do feel that the performances on this final song (while technically mesmerising) lack the gravitational charm that the second and third tracks possess. 'Don't You Forget' is fun, and will definitely be a great song to hear live. It is energetic and bouncy, but it suffers from being in the same EP as two pieces as incredible as 'Stella Maris' and 'Tembé Road'.
Cooks But We're Chefs are a band that benefit hugely from the flexibility of their extremely talented group of musicians. The four songs of Sports Day demonstrate this group as not only supremely gifted across the board, but also fully aware of exactly how to tap into their unique blend of influences and styles. I'm sure that this ensemble could make music in any genre that you could throw at them, but when playing to their strengths as they do on 'Stella Maris' and 'Tembé Road' they are already producing tracks that rival the quality of big names in jazz fusion. I want to hear more and I want to hear it live. This is a band that deserves to be heard in both coffee shops and festival slots, paradoxically being the most relaxing and the most invigorating blend of energetic jazz-hip-hop and doing it all at the exact same time. This is a very good EP, and the second this band manages to cross the Irish sea, I suggest you make it your mission to find them live whenever and wherever they arrive.
Listen to 'Tembé Road' on our monthly playlist here.
Ben Wheadon is editor and founder of Slow Motion Panic Masters. He is a Welsh musician and English Literature student at King's College, London and he should be writing a dissertation instead of creating a blog. Thanks for reading! Slow Motion Panic Masters is a music, arts and culture blog created and edited by Ben Wheadon, a literature student and musician based in London, England. Follow us on instagram, twitter and subscribe to our mailing list below to be alerted every time a new post is published on the site.