Monday, 11 November 2019

Onyx Collective ‎– Lower East Suite (Part Three) (2018)

Genre: Jazz
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Big Dada

Tracklist:
01.   Onyx Court
02.   Don't Get Caught Under The Manhattan Bridge
03.   Battle Of The Bowery
04.   There Goes The Neighbourhood
05.   2 AM At Veselka
06.   Delancey Dilemma
07.   Rumble In Chatham Square
08.   Eviction Notice
09.   Magic Gallery
10.   FDR Drive

Boris Vian once said, “Sans le jazz, la vie serait une erreuronce”. 
Loosely translated this means: Without jazz life would be a mistake. The same could be said for New York’s Onyx Collective in 2018. The group’s ability to incorporate jazz, rock, punk with avant-garde sensibilities means their music can fit perfectly in the Tate’s Turbine Hall as well as at a gritty house in Brookyln, making them one of the most important bands on the planet at the moment. 
As their name implies Onyx Collective, are more than a number of regular players, having collaborated with Nick Hakim, Princess Nokia, Julian Soto, Dev Hynes, Wiki and have, in one guise of another, appeared on David Byrne’s new album and in Ibeyi’s live band. At times they feel like the Wu-Tang Clan of jazz, with a roster of core, and fringe members who could appear on any track at any given time.

Onyx Collective’s RZA is saxophonist Isiah Barr. On Lower East Suite Part Three, he is joined by Austin Williamson on drums, Walter Stinson on upright bass, Spencer Murphy on electric bass, and Roy Nathanson as guest sax on four tracks. There is another, mostly invisible, member of the group, one who holds them together, who inspires and challenges them, and that is New York City itself. 
'New York's role in Onyx Collective is everything,' Barr recently said. 'The names of people, the places, the street corners here are so legendary and historically prominent - it leaves a roadmap that we can walk through and a story for us to follow.' On Lower East Suite Part Three, like their previous releases, the city is at the heart of the music. Gritty sax explode like car horns during rush hour, drum patterns replicate the East River surging along, and bass lines mimic the never-ending procession of people populating its street. 
Before recording began Onyx Collective were priced out their HQ and moved to a practice space at the Magic Gallery. This effected the new music being written, as concepts like eviction and gentrification show themselves in the songs titles. ‘Don’t Get Caught Under the Manhattan Bridge’, ‘Battle of the Bowery’, ‘There Goes the Neighbourhood’, ‘Rumble in Chatham Square’ and ‘Eviction Notice’ tells us all we need to know. NYC is in flux, and this is fuelling Onyx Collective’s fire and giving them some extra bite to their music. 
Opening track ‘Onyx Court’ conjures up images of waiting for an audience with Haile Selassie, or Isaac Hayes in ‘Escape from New York’. Gongs tremble, horns vibrate as the emperor walks to his throne and you are ushered in for an audience. 
‘Battle of the Bowery’ gives of a feeling of being unsteady and slightly light headed. As the music swirls around you there is an off-kilter bounce to it. This is when Lower East Suite Part Three really starts to come into its own, and Onyx Collective give a hint of what they’re capable of. Stinson’s bass is the grounding force here. Williamson’s drums and Barr’s sax play off each other to create eddies and maelstroms that create a feeling of movement, and flux, that feels like a short bout of vertigo, or when you get in from a night out and realise you’ve drunk too much. Everything is slowly spinning round you, it’s not unpleasant, but you can see the room slightly turn. ‘Magic Gallery’, an ode to their new home, is the most romantic song on the album. 
You can feel the excitement and passion for their new practice space, but the regret and longing for having left their pervious home. 
The standout tracks are ‘2AM at Veselka’ and ‘Rumble in Chatham Square’. ‘2AM’ is the most straight forward song on the album, but don’t be deceived, through classic jazz sounds, and vibes, there is plenty going on. Each member is given a chance to showcase their virtuosity at their applied disciplines. It also gives a period of reflection, to take in what you’ve just heard, and get ready for the next barrage. ‘Rumble’ opens with a jaunty sax riff and ad-hock drum fills, while the bass manages to hold everything together. Its wired and frayed in places, but this is when it’s at its most exciting and breath-taking. Much like a real-life rumble, the sax and drums are taking shots at each other, while the bass tries to keep them apart, and play mediator. 
On Lower East Suite Part Three, Onyx Collective have delivered an album that builds on the sound, and reputation, of their previous releases but pushes that sound further. Gone are the vocal samples, and field sounds, but in its place is a calculated and frenetic energy that seeps from ‘Lower East Suite Part Three’, showcasing each member’s classical training, but also their disdain for it. They have thrown off the shackles of conventional composition and, instead, opted for something that suits their collectives loves. Lower East Suite Part Three is an important album, not just in Onyx Collective’s career, but in music in general. It shows that jazz isn’t confined to the past, or dusty records, and is loud, vibrant, angry at society and has something to say. It shows that Onyx Collective can rub shoulders with any band and give as good as they get. It also shows that Onyx Collective can write music flawless music, as well as just jam the bangers out, and have fun doing it. 
Nick Roseblade / Drown In Sound
An expandable quartet composed entirely of native New Yorkers is rare, but does that affect their musical product? Does residence matter in today’s tiny connected world? Taking a break from backing such pop near-celebrities as Princess Nokia, Blood Orange, and Wiki, Onyx Collective answer these questions in the positive by creating a mad NYC night out with John Lurie, Charles Mingus, and a straitlaced Albert Ayler as your guides, tongues firmly in cheeks. 
There’s no denying Messrs. Isaiah Barr (alto and tenor saxophone), Austin Williamson (drums), Walter Stinson (upright bass), and Spencer Murphy (electric bass) have absorbed the grittiness of New York’s Lower East Side circa 1992. Many of their often brief, through-composed tunes whirl around like street food vendors and congueros vying for space in Tompkins Square Park. The fidelity is lo, the energy East Village carefree. 
Enter from the top or the bottom; it’s all gurgling dissonance and lopsided rhythms, a late-night confection of warbling tones, dive-bar atmospheres, and the convoluted essence of some Manhattan past where rents were low and groceries affordable. 
Oddly, the group waits until the album’s final song, “FDR Drive,” to reveal its menacingly trippy trademark swing beat, and it’s a delight, like Jackie McLean playing Tilt-a-Whirl with Charlie Haden and Ed Blackwell. Saxophonist Roy Nathanson guests on four tracks, but such nearly danceable ditties as “2AM at Veselka” and the equally compact “Delancey Dilemma” are all Onyx Collective’s deranged show, as humorous as they are catchy. 
Ken Micallef / Jazz Times

Yussef Kamaal ‎– Black Focus (2016)

Style: Contemporary Jazz, Soul-Jazz, Broken Beat, Deep House
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Brownswood Recordings

Tracklist:
01.   Black Focus
02.   Strings Of Light
03.   Remembrance
04.   Yo Chavez
05.   Ayla
06.   O.G.
07.   Lowrider
08.   Mansur's Message
09.   Wingtai Drums
10.   Joint

Credits:
Drums, Percussion – Yussef Dayes
Electric Bass – Kareem Dayes, Tom Driessler
Electric Guitar – Mansur Brown
Synth, Electric Piano – Henry Wu
Tenor Saxophone – Shabaka Hutchings
Trumpet – Yelfris Valdés
Vocals – Gordon Wedderburn
Written-By, Performer, Producer – Henry Wu, Yussef Dayes
Engineer, Producer – Eric Lau, Malcom Catto, Richard Samuels

If people still think that the capital of jazz is New York, surely they've never been to London or listened to anything that comes from the British capital these days. Just like New York, London is a melting pot. Because you can find musicians from any part of the world, the produced outcome is extremely cosmopolitan. Yet, since London never had such a rich history of jazz as New York, the music tends to carry a very different vibe while essentially being part of the same tradition. Yussef Kamaal is a perfect illustration of such phenomenon. 
The band officially consists of Yussef Dayes on drums and Kamaal Williams on keyboards. However, additional instruments (e.g. electric bass, guitar, trumpet, etc.) feature in the majority of the tracks on Black Focus. The album is rhythmically saturated: a few tracks feature additional percussion, which in combination with a standard acoustic drum kit add an exotic flavour to the entire mix. Artificial sound effects on keyboards, trumpet, and guitar applied to most of the tracks have a huge impact to the overall sound, too. Yet, since the drums and the bass are left without much additional processing, the sonic template sounds well balanced as most of the tracks have a solid acoustic base giving Black Focus a trance-like feel. 
Yussef Kamaal states that their musical inspirations derive from artists such as Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Herbie Hancock, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Thelonious Monk, or Kaidi Tatham. That might be very true, but in terms of the rhythmic vocabulary, harmonic progressions, choice of instruments and their sonic textures, music on Black Focus also resembles Jamiroquai, Brand New Heavies, or Incognito—bands that were described as being part of Acid Jazz movement. While labeling the band as Acid Jazz collective would be as problematic as trying to define the term itself, it does explain why Yussef Kamaal is under the wings of Gilles Peterson and his Brownswood Recordings label. After all, it was partly because of Peterson that the term Acid Jazz emerged. 
There are two types of tracks on Black Focus—with and without melodic improvisations. Perhaps, this split is the main problem with the album. Tracks featuring solo improvisation make the music sound outdated, while tracks without melodic soloing articulate something extremely fresh and radical, jeopardizing the whole modern jazz paradigm that for so long enchained the music. If only Yussef Kamaal had more confidence to follow such a solo-less direction, the album could have benefited more in terms of its internal coherence, innovation and a healthy dose of anarchism. Nonetheless, despite the division, Black Focus is a forward-looking sonic journey that will fill one in on what's happening in London's jazz scene right now. 
Rokas Kucinskas / All About Jazz