We're all the sum of our experiences. Few can say that their lives haven't been influenced in some way by the views or work of others. So when people latch onto the effect that Miles Davis had on trumpeter Wallace Roney, it's fair to ask, "so what?"
Roney hung with Miles during his formative years, and the impact of the experience on his development is something he makes no attempt to cover up. But anyone who has listened to Roney's voicemost notably beginning with '97's Village, where he began to assimilate African rhythms and more electric orchestration, and continuing through last year's fine HighNote debut Prototypewill realize that in some ways Roney is no different than anyone else. His approach may be filtered through myriad influences from Coltrane to Herbie Hancock's Mwandishi group and early Weather Report, but at the end of the day he sounds like nobody but himself.
Mystikal continues Roney's progression. With the same core group as on Prototypepianist/keyboardist Geri Allen, reed player Antoine Roney, keyboardist Adam Holzman, bassist Matt Garrison, and drummer Eric Allenit's not just about the evolution of the leader's approach, this time it's also about the evolution of a collective sound.
Roney's approach is becoming increasingly all-inclusive. Two common threads tie together these original pieces, ranging from the rhythmically complex, all-acoustic title track to the more propulsive and electric "Stargaze" and "NiceTown." The thematic conception focuses on breaking down bar lines and creating longer form melodies that float ethereally above the rhythm section; and an open collective approach allows these structured pieces to breathe.
A diverse set of covers mingle with original compositions. The acoustic quartet reading of Kenny Dorham's "Poetic" demonstrates that Roney hasn't completely left his post bop roots behindas does Bud Powell's ballad "I'll Keep Loving You," a gorgeous duet with Allen that closes the album. Looking to more contemporary sources, a joyously danceable version of rapper Slick Rick's reggae tune "Hey Young World" feels faithful until the end of each phrase, where an ambiguous chord hangs and breaks things up. The Temptations ballad "Just My Imagination" is equally carefree, exposing Roney at his most tender.
Most revealing is the opening track. "Atlantis" retains composer Wayne Shorter's harmonic complexity, but it opens up expansively for Roney's probing solo, which is spare, lyrical, and emotionally to-the-point, without a note wasted. Over the course of Wallace's last four records, brother Antoine has proved his association is all about the playing and has nothing to do with nepotism. The Shorter influence is clear but, as with Wallace, it would be unfairly dismissive to leave it at that. Allen, of course, has her own career; but when she plays with husband Wallace Roney, there's a simpatico that comes from shared life experiences beyond the musical. Garrison is one of today's best young bassistslithe and virtuosic, yet always keeping his ears open.
As Roney's concept becomes more eclectic, it paradoxically becomes more focused. Mystikal continues his path towards combining past and presentwith, most importantly, a clear eye on the future.
Personnel: Wallace Roney: trumpet; Antoine Roney: soprano and tenor saxophones, bass clarinet; Geri Allen: piano, fender rhodes, keyboards; Adam Holzman: keyboards, fender rhodes; Matt Garrison: acoustic and electric bass; Eric Allen: drums; Bobby Thomas, Jr.: percussion; Val Jeanty: turntables.