Jazz is Dead Volume 1 - An album review by Scott Ronan


Title:                Jazz Is Dead Volume 1

Artist:              Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammad featuring various artists

Release date:  20th March 2020

Label:              Jazz is Dead records

Initially the names Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge were enough to grab my attention and prompt me to pre order the vinyl version of this compilation.  However, when I saw the guest list I was glad I placed that order.  This compilation is an introduction to the latest project by Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge which promises to be at least an eight-volume project.  Volume 1 features tracks by the artists who will join Ali and Adrian on the rest of the series including Roy Ayers, Gary Bartz, Brian Jackson, Jaoa Donato, Doug Carn, Marcos Valle and Azymuth.  An impressive line up to say the least.  The projects also features The Midnight Hour a group of talented musicians formed by Ali and Adrian.

            If Ali and Adrian are unfamiliar to you then let me give you a brief intro.  Both have impressive CVs as purveyors of modern soul, jazz, and hip-hop. Adrian, originally a bassist, keyboardist, composer, and producer, has scored films such Black Dynamite and worked with artists ranging from Philly soul legends the Delfonics, Kendrick Lamar, CeeLo green and the Wu-Tang Clan’s Ghostface Killah. Meanwhile, Ali was a member of one of the most important hip hop groups of all time, A Tribe Called Quest and has worked on various projects outside that group including Lucy Pearl with Raphael Saadiq (Tony, Toni, Tone) and Dawn Robinson (En Vogue).  He has also been a prolific remixer and producer for many artists including Busta Rhymes, Jamiroquai, Janet Jackson and more as part of the Ummah production team.

            The album is eight tracks and I believe that all the track swill be featured on the later volumes by the individual artists when their volumes are released.  Backing instrumentation is handle by the Midnight Hour with Ali and Adrian taking on production duties.  The album starts off strong with the first track, “Hey Lover” featuring the legendary Roy Ayers on the xylophone.  It’s a soulful and mellow track which invokes memories of RAMP with its haunting vocals.  Roy is on fine form and works his xylophone as you would expect, and the bassline is heavy

            Gary Bartz jumps on board for the second track, “Distant Mode”.  Another short track that comes in at just over three minutes however, this is more than enough time to spotlight Gary’s saxophone skills which are second to none.  The beat is of a higher tempo than the first track almost double time with nice organ riffs and a banshee like guitar appearing from time to time.  It is however, the sax that is the star of this track.

            Long-time Gil Scott Heron collaborator, Brian Jackson dusts off his keyboard to bring his magic to the track, “Nancy Wilson”.  The track start with a tinkling piano over nice set of drums.  Later a flute and guitar join the show to great effect.  The track is subtle and well arranged with instruments coming and going.  The piano and the flute make good partners and contribute to a very mellow and enjoyable track.

            João Donato comes in with an upbeat track for the fourth joint on the album, “Conexão” showing off his Bosa Nova roots to great effect.  The piano work is inspired and works well with the upbeat drums and the spaced-out samples they are bringing in with the occasional sax.  There’s a lovely drum solo towards the end of the track that works well.

            The fifth track, “Down Deep” features Doug Carn and it is a slower more relaxed affair.  Doug displays some lovely Hammond Organ skills on this track creating an atmospheric soundscape that would be perfect to fall asleep to on a nice tropical beach.  A low key but good track.

            “Apocalypto” by Azymuth is the sixth track on this album and it is an epic trac k as you would expect form the Brazilian giants of Jazz Funk.  It’s a fairly upbeat track with crisp drums.  It’s a beautifully chaotic track with that rises and falls during its more than nine minutes running time.  Each member of Azymuth shows off their considerable skills on this amazing track.  It has a Latin flavour to it and eventually builds to a crescendo ending.  Superb addition to this album.

            Marcus Valle provides a real juxtaposition for the next track which is a completely mellow Latin Jazz and samba influenced song.  A much shorter affair, “Não Saia Da Praça” is a perfect example of a Marcus Valle track with great vocals and nice horns.

            The last track is simply title “Jazz is Dead” and features the musicians who have support Ali and Adrian on all the tracks on this album.  They are a talented group of musicians called the Midnight Hour.  The track is great with strong vocals, nice drums, Piano and rising horns.  A nice finish to the album albeit one of the shortest tracks on the album.

Overall, this is a strong modern jazz album featuring some legendary artists that acts as an appetizer for the individual projects that will be released over the next year.  Whilst I enjoyed it a great deal, I found the tracks were very short with most coming in around three minutes and only the Azymuth track coming in longer, over nine minutes in fact.  There is a a Hip-Hop flavour running through this project especially noticeable on some of the drums, but to me that’s a good thing especially as I have been a fan of both Ali and Adrian’s previous body of work.  If you are unsure of whether you should invest in the later volumes of this series then, listen to this album because it gives an understanding of what to expect from. The later volumes.  Despite the short tracks is still a great listen even it comes in at around 30 minutes.

A review by Scott Ronan who presents "Late Night Soul" on a Tuesday night and "Hip Hop & Breaks" on a Friday night.

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