Call It A Comeback: Cousins Of The Wize

By Niki D'Andrea

Cousins Of The Wize MCs Pie and Jahmal share the love.

Cousins Of The Wize may be the closest thing to a hip-hop “supergroup” in Phoenix. Some members of the 8-piece collective have played with local luminaries Trik Turner and Phunk Junkeez, COTW MC Pie has released some much lauded solo work as Magnum P.I.e, and the group’s played with a host of hot acts that includes Incubus, Cypress Hill, Run-D.M.C., House of Pain, De La Soul, Fishbone, and Pharcyde.

And just like a supergroup, the members of Cousins Of The Wize have endured many trials and tribulations over the course of the band’s ten-year existence. After self-releasing a debut album, A Brief Moment in Time’s Pocket, in 1998, they began building a fan base by playing out all over town and establishing a reputation as an energetic, unpredictable live act that deftly blended reggae beats with jazzy horns and hip-hop lyrical flows, all wrapped up in an alt. rock sensibility.

Then COTW vocalist CPT (Cool Poetry Talk, a.k.a. Chris Pangrazi) died in a car accident in 2003. The band went on hiatus, and in the interim, sax player Jeremy Decoster moved to Las Vegas, drummer Mark Kulvinskas left the group amicably to hit skins for Valley buzz band Dear and the Headlights, and the last recorded tracks featuring CPT were put on the shelf.

Until now. It’s been more than seven months since Cousins Of The Wize have performed, and the band’s next outing -- a performance at “Blunt Club” on August 23 -- will also mark the release of an album titled Tracks That Slipped Through the Cracks. Pie says that about 10 or 11 of the 13 previously unreleased tracks on the CD feature CPT. Pie’s excited to share the material with people, and equally excited to be performing at the vaunted “Blunt Club” at Hollywood Alley in Mesa, the Valley’s longest-running hip-hop weekly, which hosted none other than Public Enemy a few months ago. “Anytime we can play anywhere Public Enemy has just played, it’s an honor,” he says.

The show’s also a sort of primer for the release of COTW’s new album, which Pie says is about “80 to 90 percent done” and should be released around January, 2008. The album was recorded by local über-producer Larry Elyea (Jimmy Eat World, Authority Zero, Digital Summer) at the engineer’s Mind’s Eye Recording Studios, and so the sound quality is stellar. The sax solo on “2 Bottles of Beer” glides pristinely over folky acoustic guitars and a meandering rock beat, while the turntable scratches on “Cruise Control” make a seamless mesh with the ornamental piano and deep-voiced rhymes.

“A lot of the hip-hop elements, we’ve steered away from,” Pie says, discussing how the upcoming new album differs from COTW’s first. “This is more of a thinking person’s album. There’s kind of a Pink Floyd-ish feel to some of the songs. It’s deeper, and it holds some of the scars from the things we’ve endured over the years.”

Pie’s lyrics on the new tracks cover everything from “a guy who’s girl has just left him, so he’s drinking at the bar” (“2 Beers”) to a song that “addresses whether religion shapes man or man shapes religion” (“Come What May”). But the dark shadow that looms over us all makes many cameos, too. “Sometimes, [the lyrics] are about death, and how it applies to making the most of today,” Pie says. “We all learned a hard lesson a few years ago. I try to inspire people with my lyrics but keep everything in perspective.”

But the biggest change for Cousins Of The Wize has been a conscious musical maturation. “We were a party band for years and years,” Pie says, “and this [record] will show that we’ve changed. We’re not just a party band anymore. We’ve all grown up. I think people will be surprised by this album.”

The Breakdown:

The band: Cousins Of The Wize Pie: Vocals Jahmal Graves: Vocals Steven Faulkner: Bass Robert Maywalt: Guitars Jim Edens: Drums Jeremy Decoster: Saxophone Derek Langham: Keyboards DJ Needles: Turntable

The show: “Blunt Club” at Hollywood Alley in Mesa on Thursday, August 23. Scheduled to perform: Cousins Of The Wize, Golden Tung, DJ Element, and Emerg McVay. $5 cover before 10 p.m. (free for ladies), $7 for everyone after 10 p.m.

The album: For a preview of tracks off COTW’s upcoming album, visit www.myspace.com/cousinsofthewize. And here's "Come What May," an exclusive track from the new album that's not on the MySpace page:

The extras: Check out this YouTube clip of Cousins Of The Wize, performing “The Come and Go” in 2005.

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