BLACK MIDI, Hellfire (Rough Trade Records). Hyperactive. Frenetic. Weird as hell. In a good way. If Frank Zappa wrote music for a jazz band manned by Fishbone and fronted by Johnny Rotten, that might come close to what black midi’s music sounds like. Or not. But don’t let that dissuade you. This is a fascinating and fun record, even as it does its level best to throw you right off the side of the boat from Note One. There’s nothing radio- or chart-friendly happening here, which only adds to its appeal. This is a band caught red-handed in the act of being itself. Shifting between groovy, goofy, and abstract, this music is not meant to be heard casually. Commit to the music’s process and reap its rewards.
IMMANUEL WILKINS, The 7th Hand (Blue Note). In a nice throwback to jazz’s “Young Lions” era, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins uses his silky-smooth tone to play classy melodies paying tribute to that era with an added layer of African percussion that keeps the music forward-thinking. They rhythm section grooves and swings as needed behind their leader, always giving the nearly ubiquitous sax somewhere to go. The band keeps things under a tightly contained lid until “Lighthouse,” where the flute of Elena Pinderhughes shares the spotlight up front, while drummer Kewku Sumbry unleashes his pent up fury underneath. It’s the ideal lead-up to the 21-minute epic “Lift,” which throws all the previous rules out the window and allows the band to explore its inner Ornette Coleman. It’s a cool way to close out an album that respects the past while pointing its way toward what lies ahead.
JULIE SLICK, Terroir 22 (self-released). As Adrian Belew’s longtime (16 years now) bassist, Julie Slick proves the perfect musical foil, leaving her leader free to wander off and explore complex loops and melodies while she maintains the groove, even if said lines contain their own complexities. As the leader of her own projects, Slick allows herself to stretch out even further, adding unconventional bass tones to her repertoire and creating the coolest of lead instruments not beholden to any other prog-oriented shred bassist. Slick has made virtuosity practically hummable, as shown by this VIP Club release, which she is also selling on Belew’s current tour. But Slick is not one-dimensional, as evidenced by her use of found sounds and samples, one of which is used at length and remarkably well. It’s hard to believe we have been aware of this talent for nearly two decades. It sounds like there’s a lot more in the creative tank and she’s just getting started.
SINGLES AND EPs
DEBBIE PEARL, “Can We Make Love Win This Time.” A Nashville-based guitarist who can shred with the best of them, Debbie Pearl puts her chops aside to get in touch with her singer-songwriter side for her first single. With a voice that invokes thoughts of Macy Gray wafting nicely over a Memphis groove, Pearl sounds confident and comfortable in this setting, nicely laying the foundation for what comes next. It’s a nice homage to the artists she admires while establishing her own unique sound.
THEON CROSS, “Epistrophy” (Blue Note). A remarkable bit of inspired, tuba-led lunacy from Englishman Theon Cross, who takes on a Thelonius Monk classic and makes it very modern and very much his own. With a groove to die for, this track is part of a forthcoming release from Blue Note records called Blue Note Re:imagined II. If the rest of the collection is anything like this, we should be all over this.
MAKAYA MCCRAVEN, “Dream Another” (International Anthem). A superb drummer and conceptualist, Makaya McCraven straddles the lines of musical genre, mostly using jazz as his base. McCraven sets tone here, just before putting the Groove-meter into “Chill” and letting the trumpet foreground and harp background carry the day. Light a candle and enjoy.
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