If there’s one thing that my mother has always told me, it’s to have balance in life. Balance with friends, work, play, and everything else that matters (family included). Music is definitely something that needs to have its share of balance, because too much of one thing is never good for you, as the old adage goes. I’ve been listening to a lot of Hip Hop as of late, but I’ve felt the need to pull back because I’ve felt the need to digest some feel good music in my spirit that doesn’t have a sample loop or hype ad-libs. I don’t know how so many people can listen to trap music on a regular & consistent basis, because everything really starts to sound the same, and an escape is necessary in order to keep the mind intact. Part of this self proclaimed “Jazz cleanse” that I’m currently on, was started by Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly, D’Angelo’s Black Messiah and the recently released untitled unmastered, also by Kendrick Lamar (don’t hold your breath for a review for that though). With the Jazz & Soul influences running deep with heartbreaking & soul searching messages being at the forefront of those albums, gradually it inspired me to go back to the roots of the sound that inspired what we know as modern day Hip Hop. Common sense says that if you’re a devout Hip Hop fan, you have an appreciation for Jazz. That’s not exactly the case if the everyday Hip Hop fan, but there are those who (somewhat) understand the importance of where the value of Jazz lies. For whatever reason, however, Jazz became a genre that was limited to the speakers at Indigo bookstores & Starbucks. It was a genre that inspired those to dance, to be passionate, and to relax when the time came. It’s a shame that Jazz had been put on the back-burner, but that’s usually what happens when generations move on and fewer artists are out there to keep it alive, but that seems to have changed now.
One key collaborator with Kendrick Lamar for as long as I’ve been listening to him, has been Terrace Martin. He’s had an extensive history working with a host of artists from the West Coast, but I didn’t really start to take in his music on his own until recent (give or take 1 or 2 years). 3ChordFold was my starting point, but instead of backtracking, I simply looked forward to what he would bring out, along with other collaborators in Thundercat & Kamasi Washington. They would go on to create the sound, which many people know now with association with Kendrick, but as solo acts, they are key to the revival of jazz, or at least getting younger people to peak their interests. Well it certainly peaked mine, although I did grow up listening to Jazz (Ella Fitzgerald ringing through the walls of my old Scarborough home). Terrace Martin has a reinvigorated vibe that he can run with, and he certainly did so when a couple of tracks debuted from Velvet Portraits. With sophistication & the taste of the West Coast, there was certainly a treat to be had, filled with Saxophone, Bass, Drums, and soulful vocals alike.
Throughout my Jazz Cleanse (which has thus included Gospel music as well) the common denominator that has heightened the quality of albums which include Grover Washington Jr., John Coltrane, and Miles Davis (to name a few), it’s the accompany of the vocals who just seem to blend well. Tiffany Gouche, Lalah Hathaway, and Marlon Williams (to name a few) are key contributors when it comes to the makings of this audial ‘portrait’ of the laid back scenery in which most of us on the outside have been accustomed to witnessing on TV & movies over the past couple of decades (at least when it comes to my lifetime). The balance between sounds from songs that make you dance (Push, Funky Taco) and the majority of the rest invoke ranges of emotions that put you in the feels (Patiently Waiting, Thinking of You, Reverse, Oakland) that balance it out, while sprinkled in with the classic Jazz lounge feel – pretty much elevator music that you would want to actually listen to from top to bottom until you actually need to get off the elevator.
The song for me that I was looking most forward to hearing was Mortal Man, because it just also happens to be one of my favourite songs from To Pimp A Butterfly. Kendrick’s song alone touches in a very emotional aspect, so it was already expected that the jazz version would have its own way in conveying that same feeling. And to an extent, I was right. The background of the song (which Terrace shared during a live performance, which I had to download an put on my iPod as a ‘bonus’) stems from the death of one of his friends while they were recording the song. The song itself feels grim, but with spouts of hope and perseverance. The saxophone is the perfect instrument to getting out the buried pain out in musical form because of the screeches and wails that ring out. It’s an instrument that I’ve always loved since I was a kid, and has really been part of ushering in strong emotions that I hadn’t felt with other instruments (okay, maybe the drums).
What I appreciate about this album is that there’s a need for Jazz to be taken back and treated as it once was, not as a luxury genre that’s only distinguished and available for a certain crowd, but as a soundtrack that speaks to a mass of people, that makes people want to dance, that creates the mood for an intimate setting, and puts you in a place where you can spill out your emotions. It’s welcoming, it’s suffocating, and it’s music that is healthy for your ears and your soul. There’s a reason why I needed to have this in my life right now, because where so much music is just throwaway after throwaway with no substance, sometimes you just have to go back to the basics of originality, and what made music (particularly Hip Hop) great to begin with. It started with Jazz. If you’re not into Jazz, that’s fine, don’t waste your time, but if you want to have a degree of variety in your music pallet, then by all means, certainly have at this great piece of art and live with it. But for now, this is my opinion, this is my review
That’s My Word & It STiXX