The Project, Church Key, Club Congress, April 27

Live band hip-hop is a rarity in Tucson.

So when the Project arrived on the local scene—fully formed, with an eclectic sound that takes in soulful grooves, jazzy detours and spacey funk—late last summer, the fresh sound created a huge buzz. Releasing their debut Child Support (produced by Ian Carstensen at Loveland Studios), the Project put on a tight show Friday, holding the full crowd from start to finish.

Backing MC Rey Murphy and crooner Darielle Williams are saxophonist Yancey Wells, bassist Darren Simoes (Dead Western Plains, the Bled), and guitarist/keyboardist Ian Carstensen and drummer Orin Shochat (Holy Rolling Empire).

The band opened with "Grindin'," chill organ and a slightly mournful sax giving way to a sharp beat and verses from Murphy about street credibility, staring down long odds and coming out on top.

"It's Not a Game" is anchored by a Williams hook—"This is my life, it's not a game. I grew up in the ghetto struggling through pain" —that echoes 1990s R&B and G-funk. Murphy picks up his pace on "Rolling Stone," flowing quick on vivid verses about drug dealing and pursuing rhymes as an escape.

The smooth and jazzy "Project Boys" is a showcase for Wells, putting the sax right up with Williams and Murphy's laid back ode to determination: "The Project boys is in the fuckin' house, we're doing our thing and I know that we're gonna make it."

The hard-edged instrumental funk of "Big Dipper" let the musicians show off, particularly Simoes, whose insistent bass line drives the song. "Music" is an appreciative shout-out to everything from Wu Tang to Miles Davis, a telling string of influences that explains much of what the Project is attempting. As Williams sings, music itself is the muse they're chasing.

Leading up to the Project—so named because it's (somewhat unfortunately) a side project—was alternative guitar rock from the new-ish Church Key (with members of Garboski, Gentlemen of Monster Island and Blues) on the main stage and a side stage that hosted a packed showcase of MCs, led by Captain Antenna on the turntables. The talent and promise of local voices was impressive, especially Too Tall, WHSK and the Aces.

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