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NEXT Collective: Cover Art

Chris M. Slawecki By

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Cover Art heralds the NEXT Collective: Seven musicians—Logan Richardson (flute and alto saxophone), Walter Smith III (bass clarinet and tenor saxophone), Matthew Stevens (guitar), Gerald Clayton (piano and Fender Rhodes), Kris Bowers (Fender Rhodes), Ben Williams (bass) and Jamire Williams (drums) —whose debut quite capably bears up under the heavy "young lions of jazz" mantle. Bassist Williams won the prestigious 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition; drummer Williams has extensively recorded with trumpeter Christian Scott, who guests on several Cover tunes, and he appeared with Stevens on Scott's 2012 landmark Christian aTunde Adjuah (Concord Jazz).

Like Charlie Parker carved out his bebop breakout "Koko" from the chords of the orchestral dance tune "Cherokee," NEXT Collective presents a debut completely assembled from the pop(ular) music of their rock, rap, RnB, hip-hop and pop contemporaries, and even though there's not one "jazz tune" on it, Cover Art is most certainly, and most pleasingly, jazz. It opens with two horns playing simultaneously (another great jazz tradition) atop a rolling snare drum, welcoming the piano that lays down the melody to "Twice" (Little Dragon). The saxophones seem to seek out and connect to the drummer until Stevens' melodic guitar lines tie the entire tune together.

Many tunes powerfully drive into straight-ahead jazz, but other covers steer down slightly different paths. "Africa" (D'Angelo) refocuses the skeletal original's digital funk around its softly downward keyboard spiral to createa smooth and mellow jazz piece. Drummer Williams rocks "Come Smoke My Herb" (Meshell Ndegeocello) hard and mighty, his emphatic tumult pushing the saxophonists higher and higher. Adorned in gentle flute and acoustic piano, "Refractions in the Plastic Pulse" (Stereolab) sounds more organic than plastic as it grows from and then floats above the rhythm section's fertile bed, and "Oceans" (Pearl Jam) and "Perth" (Bon Iver) are remodeled into harmonic moods that float through suspended time.

Scott's trumpet turns burn with pure star quality. His hot howling wind uses the symmetrical piano/bass underrhythm as kindling to set "No Church in the Wild" (Jay Z & Kanye West) on fire. The somber shades of "Marvin's Room" (Drake) allows Scott to channel the starkly dark, profound melancholy of Miles Davis (through Davis' breathy and worn yet regal "Time After Time" sound) as he lightly tosses on drummer Williams' quicksilver, post-hip-hop waves, ornamented by acoustic piano like the starlight of a perfectly silent night.

Track Listing: Twice (Little Dragon); No Church in the Wild (Jay Z and Kanye West); Africa (D'Angelo); Fly or Die (N.E.R.D.); Oceans (Pearl Jam); Refractions in the Plastic Pulse (Stereolab); Marvin's Room (Drake); Come Smoke My Herb (Meshell Ndegeocello); Perth (Bon Iver); Thank You (Dido).

Personnel: Logan Richardson: alto saxophone, flute; Walter Smith III: bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Matthew Stevens: guitar; Gerald Clayton: piano, Fender Rhodes; Kris Bowers: Fender Rhodes; Ben Williams: bass; Jamire Williams: drums; Christian Scott: trumpet.

Title: Cover Art | Year Released: 2013 | Record Label: Concord Records

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