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Marcus Strickland's Twi-Life: Nihil Novi

Dan Bilawsky By

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When you wipe away all of the minutiae and technical matters involved with the recording process, there are really only two schools of thought on the subject: You either aim to capture what's literally there or you choose to produce something that's not. Everything else is semantics and dealing with variants, mixtures, and/or a balance between the two. Those who aim to strictly capture are trying to bottle true-to-life sound, and those who produce prefer to use those sounds as the seeds to create something that's not necessarily new, but certainly personalized.

Saxophonist Marcus Strickland's Blue Note/Revive Music debut—Nihil Novi, Latin for "nothing new"—most definitely falls into the latter category. It's a production piece, with horns settled atop and submersed in sampled sounds, glazed over arenas, spoken word passages, layered vocals, and refracted rhythms. Strickland teamed with bassist-producer Meshell Ndegeocello, a genre-free visionary who's worked in many a different musical situation over the years, and she helped him to achieve his objective(s). Together they've created a forward-thinking record that's heavy on the nob-twisting but true to the spirit and soul of its creator(s).

Strickland's saxophones and bass clarinet are part of the greater whole here, helping to flesh out hybridized pictures. This crew touches on Afrobeat, dance floor culture, Eastern European folk strains, neo-soul, funk, R&B, gospel, and hip-hop, often grafting aspects of one to parts of another. The press materials—and the music—reference everybody from Madlib to Charles Mingus and J Dilla to James Brown, so this is not one for the purists out there.

Altered states and straight life merge right out of the gate on "Tic Toc." The atmosphere undulates, Strickland and trumpeter Keyon Harrold deliver flowing unison lines with purpose, the steady-or-not tick of tweaked rhythms keeps everything in place, and a powerful chorus of voices heightens the tension in the music. Reference points abound, but labels lose their meaning once you're dropped into this world.

The members of the current incarnation of Twi-Life—Strickland, Harrold, bassist Kyle Miles, drummer Charles Haynes, organist Mitch Henry, and keyboardist Masayuki Hirano—come and go here, and various guests add their two cents. Jean Baylor is the most notable of the bunch, bringing her smooth and soulful vocals to bear on a few tracks, but there's also much to admire in the contributions of more prominent figures like Ndegeocello, pianist Robert Glasper, and drummer Chris Dave. The process of brewing definitely takes precedence over blowing here, but that's just fine. You barely miss the the steady flow of solo heroics when so many different flavor notes are hitting the sonic palate.

Track Listing: Tic Toc; The Chant; Talking Loud; Alive; Sissoko's Voyage; Mantra; Cycle; Inevitable; Drive; Cherish Family; Celestelude; Mingus; Truth; Mirrors.

Personnel: Marcus Strickland: alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, vocals; Keyon Harrold: trumpet, flugelhorn vocals; Kyle Miles: electric bass, vocals; Charles Haynes: drums; Mitch Henry: organ, keyboards, vocals; Masayuki Hirano: keyboards; Jean Baylor: vocals; Pino Palladino: electric bass; Meshell Ndegeocello: electric bass; James Francies: keyboards; Chris Dave: drums; Chris Bruce: guitar; E.J. Strickland: drums; Robert Glasper: piano.

Title: Nihil Novi | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Blue Note Records

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