Jacob Collier: Djesse – Volume 1, with Metropol Orkest

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I was curious to get to the bottom of all the media hype surrounding multi-instrumentalist, singer, composer, arranger, producer and two-time Grammy winner Jacob Collier.

Two UK newspapers eulogise this first part of a 40-song, four-volume digital release, a follow-up to his 2016 debut album as “staggering and unique”, and how by the end of his set, “…it was difficult to imagine how anything could follow it, let alone equal it”.

Well, this reviewer was left distinctly underwhelmed. The label’s PR machine describes it as “the exploration of the mind of one of music’s finest young talents that traverses different musical worlds in astonishing ways”, or, as Collier imagined it, as a grand journey through space and time.

Maybe the media frenzy stems from his largely self-taught musical origins, and that the viral YouTube videos he began posting from his London bedroom recording studio caught the attention of Quincy Jones, which helped to build his star status. To that extent, he has certainly made a success of how to use social media, but the truth is that the majority of the music showcased here, though technically accomplished, textured and not without its moments of drive and energy, lacks emotional depth, nuance, and often feels very derivative.

Take Collier’s voice – he does not possess the chops to convince as either a soul or a jazz singer; consequently, the vocals do not add to the music, quite the reverse. Two of the songs, exercises in accelerated funk gymnastics, are cliché-ridden and sometimes just embarrassing, as on his covers of “Every Little Thing She Does” and “All Night Long”. His problem may well be one of needing the right producer. This digital release suffers for a lack of coherence and direction, a mélange of often quite disjointed musical ideas without clear direction. And 40 tunes over four albums smacks of a concept dictating musical flow.

On a positive note, his openness to expanding his horizons, having heard Hamed El Kasri, a master of gnawa, an ancient form of Moroccan street music with its own hypnotic rhythm, has reaped rewards. He contacted El Kasri, and then flew to Morocco to meet and record with him. “Everlasting Motion” came from their collaboration. And Laura Mvula brings her distinctive voice to “Ocean Wide, Canyon Deep”. The collaboration with the Dutch ensemble, Metropol Orkest, works very well, adding colour and depth to his compositions, the best of which show his flair for chord harmonies.

Discography
Home Is (feat. Voces 8); Overture; With the Love in My Heart; Ocean Wide, Canyon Deep (feat. Laura Mvula); Djesse; Everlasting Motion (feat. Hamid El Kasri); Every Little Thing She Does; Once You (feat. Suzie Collier); All Night Long (feat. Take 6) (53.20)
Personnel not provided. Written, produced and engineered by Jacob Collier, 2018.
Decca/Geffen