The Jazz is Dead
series of recordings is neither trying to bury or resurrect the genre. It largely exists on the periphery where "jazz" is either a prefix or suffix. The project, launched by musician-producers Adrian Younge
and Ali Shaheed Muhammad
in 2020, is prolific and elastic in its choice of artists and styles. Younge and Muhammad's connections to jazz are purely inspirational. Muhammad's renowned hip hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, was known to sample from jazz. Younge holds a law degree, has composed extensively for film, and recorded with hip hop royalty such as Kendrick Lamar, Common, Wu-Tang Clan, and Jay-Z. He is active in creating and promoting multi-media art aimed at combatting systemic racism. Brian Jackson
is the eighth release in the Jazz is Dead
series, and Jackson's first leader date in two decades. Brian Jackson
was more than the foundation for Gil Scott-Heron
at the zenith of Scott-Heron's career. Jackson, with and without the Midnight Band, was there from the beginning on Pieces of a Man
(Flying Dutchman Records, 1971), the acclaimed Winter In America
(Strata-East, 1974), and through the Arista years. Jackson was integral in creating the poet's aura by producing, arranging, playing keyboards, flute, drums, and contributing background vocals. With Scott-Heron, he co-wrote "Peace Go With You, Brother," "Rivers Of My Fathers," "Back Home," "The Summer Of '42," and, most famously, "The Bottle." When Scott-Heron's career slid into his drug addiction in the 1980s, Jackson's career was collateral damage.
Jackson performed with Earth, Wind & Fire and Stevie Wonder
in the 1980s and 90s, and recorded sparingly with the likes of Roy Ayers
and several rhythm and blues acts. In 2000 he self-produced Gotta Play
, his only leader recording until now. Brian Jackson
occasionally misses the mark. For example, the album opens with "Under the Bridge," a collaboration which often feels like it is going in three directions. The quartet employs eight instruments, and it all feels a bit messy. "Mars Walk" and "Young Muhammad" are more focused jazz-funk pieces, but it is "Nancy Wilson" which invokes the glory days of the Midnight Band. Jackson's alto flute floats languidly above the acoustic piano and electric bass on this appealing dream-like number. The group returns to a slow groove on "Baba Ibeji," with masterful drumming from Malachi Morehead
. Afro-Cuban flavors dominate the closing "Ethiopian Sunshower," a pleasantly tranquil diversion.
Fans of the great music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson will want to like this recording. But except for "Nancy Wilson" and "Ethiopian Sunshower," Brian Jackson
isn't very consequential. Still, there is promise here, and no doubt Younge, Muhammad, and Jackson could create some exciting music together should the opportunity reappear.
Under the Bridge; Mars Walk; Young Muhammad; Nancy Wilson; Baba Ibeji; Duality; Bain De Minuit; Ethiopian Sunshower.
Brian Jackson: Fender Rhodes, clavinet, flute, synthesizer; Ali Shaheed Muhammad: guitar; Adrian Younge: clarinet, percussion;