Kris Bowers: Heroes + Misfits (2014)
How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Expectations can lead to unexpected directions. Kris Bowers, the compelling young pianist who took first place in 2011's Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition, wowed judges that included the likes of Ellis Marsalis, Herbie Hancock and Jason Moran. A prodigy whose encyclopedic knowledge of jazz matches an adroit freedom that can't just be taught in the classroom, Bowers could have easily debuted with a jazz-centered release.
Yet Heroes + Misfits isn't your stereotypical introduction as the aspiring musician's diverse influences and work outside of the mainstream (Kanye West, Jay-Z, Q-Tip and Black Thought) might confound purists. It churns a concoction of ideas: Airy sound effects of birds and supple piano in "Forever Spring." The electronica and rock driven motif in "Wake the Neighbors" as well as the deceptively inventive "#TheProtester " which juxtaposes a heavy back beat, classical music overtones, and signature work from the multitalented Casey Benjamin on saxophone and vocoder.
Bowers work with an array of vocalists is equally impressive. One of the more striking tracks is "Forget-er" resulting from an organic collaboration between the pianist and rising alternative pop singer Julia Easterlin which fuses avant-pop, some nifty voice arranging and lively music into a spellbinding movement. Then there's the Neo-souled "WonderLove" featuring vocalist Chris Turner and the lovely ballad "Ways of Light" with Blue Note recordings artist Jose James another young talent who's comfortable in multiple music genres. These recall the old school vibe of jazz and R&B artists that weren't afraid to mix real vocals and instruments.
Preconceptions of what an artist should and should not produce are thrown out the window in Heroes + Misfits . It's a multifaceted self-portrait of Bowers and like seminal works by The Robert Glasper Experiment, Tigran Hamasyan, and other young artists, proves that there are still fresh music ideas on the horizon.
Track Listing: Forever Spring; Wake the Neighbors; #TheProtester; Vices And Virtues; Forget-er (feat. Julia Easterlin); WonderLove (feat. Chris Turner); Forever Wonder; Drift; First,; Ways of Light (feat. José James).
Personnel: Kris Bowers: piano, Fender Rhodes, synthesizers; Casey Benjamin: alto saxophone (3, 4, 6, 8), vocoder (3); Adam Agati: guitars; Burniss Earl Travis II: electric bass; Jamire Williams: drums; Julia Easterlin: vocals (5); José James: vocals (10); Chris Turner: vocals (3, 6, 7).
Record Label: Concord Music Group
Style: Modern Jazz