The Upshot: A master class on how great musicians, sensitive to each other’s talents, bring strong compositions to thrilling, exuberant life.
BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The storied history of the Blue Note label speaks for itself. Throughout the company’s near 80-year history, it’s been home to jazz luminaries from Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock and John Coltrane to Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson and James Blood Ulmer, not to mention a host of musicians not normally associated with jazz, like Van Morrison, Norah Jones and even Jeff Bridges. Under the leadership of founder Alfred Lion, the label’s impact on jazz was profound, and that influence continued under the stewardship of Bruce Lundvall, who revived the company in the 80s, and Don Was, who guides it now.
Our Point of View gathers together a collection of the label’s current stars, all of whom are jazz’s present and future. Keyboardist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, guitarist Lionel Loueke, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott pay tribute to Lundvall, who signed many of them, and offer a good representation of the current state of jazz. Every one of them is respectful of tradition but not hidebound by it, as influenced by the R&B and hip-hop they heard growing up as the work of the jazz masters. This is no awkward one-time summit – these guys play with the intimacy and telepathy of like minds.
Take Strickland’s “Meanings,” on which the saxist leads with full-throated melodic lines before yielding the stage to an electrifying Glasper solo on the Rhodes. Or Scott’s subtly funky “Cycling Through Reality,” which features infectious rhythms over which Strickland and Akinmusire range freely and Loueke contributes a surprisingly non-irritating synth guitar solo. The Cameroon guitarist leads the way on his own “Freedom Dance,” which features complimentary horn lines, a rubbery bass break from Hodge and knotty fills and solos from its writer. Glasper’s “Bayyinah” lets the composer’s busy piano set the scene before the rest of the group eases in with tight ensemble work and lush textures.
The group also pays direct tribute to Blue Note’s lineage with a pair of Wayne Shorter tunes. At nearly eighteen minutes, “Witch Hunt” – from Shorter’s classic album Speak No Evil – allows the players to truly stretch out. The tune’s easy swing and loping melody give Akinmusire and Strickland plenty of room to move, as Glasper fills out the sound with sparkling runs, Scott rumbles all over his kit and Loueke adds delicate wah-wah guitar. Originally found on Miles Davis’ landmark Sorcerer, “Masqualero,” on which the band is joined by elders Herbie Hancock on piano and Shorter himself on soprano, brings out a playful vibe, with much looser rhythms and playing that borders on free without ever quite crossing over.
This is the work of a band, not a group of session players who found themselves in the studio together and thought, “What the hell…might as well…” At no point does anyone overblow, trample over anyone else’s work or veer into irrelevant ideas. Our Point of View is a master class on how great musicians, sensitive to each other’s talents, bring strong compositions to thrilling, exuberant life.
DOWNLOAD: “Witch Hunt,” “Freedom Dance,” “Cycling Through Reality”