Drummer Karriem Riggins has performed with or arranged for vocalist Betty Carter
, pianist Oscar Peterson
and bassist Ray Brown
; he sat in the drummer's chair on pianist Mulgrew Miller
's excellent Live at Yoshi's, Volume One
(MAXJAZZ, 2004) and Two
(MAXJAZZ, 2005). Hell, he even plays on ex-Beatle bassist-vocalist Paul McCartney
's Kisses on the Bottom
(Hear Music, 2012). These are pretty high-level mainstream credentials.
But Riggins is a Jekyll-and-Hyde; he's an equally productive hip hop producer, having overseen releases by Common, Erykah Badu, Slum Village, Black Thought, The Roots and others. Stones Throw Records, Riggins's label, offers a freely-available mixtape
of his hip hop work. Alone Together
, his first solo release, is clearly closer in sound to the hip hop end of Riggins's musical continuum. But it's likely to surprise even those who know the hip hop Riggins.Alone Together
is the aural equivalent of seeing Riggins's record collection through a kaleidoscope: lots of R&B from the 1960s to the present, a smattering of Brazilian and African records, a little jazz. It differs from his records with Badu or Slum Village. Those productions typically sample a whole chorus of a recording, over which a human voice raps or sings. On this record, those same sampled songs are cut up into much smaller, less easily-recognized pieces. It's as though Riggins is attempting a kind of research into the subatomic particles of R&B.
Riggins owes a debt to the late J Dilla, a visionary hip hop producer, and celebrated by jazz pianist Robert Glasper
, among others. Alone Together
's format is borrowed from Dilla's Donuts
(Stones Throw, 2006), which also featured 30-plus short tracks. Riggins even dedicates a track to Dilla, a most un- Dilla-like number with abundant live drumming over a kind of spaghetti-western musical theme. (Presumably, to honor Dilla with a narrow imitation would be to betray his adventurous influence.)
Most of the tracks clock in at less than two minutes. And many tracks in fact contain a couple of even shorter musical sketches joined up. And even at that, some of them seem to go on too long. These are not miniatures in the style of, say, Duke Ellington
's "Harlem Air Shaft"; these are instead tiny collages, knit quilt-like into a mosaic. The rhythm is generally propulsive, pushing forward by its nature, but the overall effect of listening to the full album is that of standing before an immobile wall of exquisitely crafted and individually distinct tiles.
That's not at all a bad thing: subatomic R&B research is an eminently good idea, though it might threaten to unleash even more powerful forces than the original subatomic research did. Riggins's record moreover lays bare the truly revolutionary sound art that lies (literally) just below the surface of so many commercial mega-hits.
Personnel: Karriem Riggins: MPC 3000, MPC 5000, Korg Triton, Spinet harpsichord,
Steinway piano, Gretsch drums, Native Instruments Maschine, Moog, Fender