For his 2016 release Nihil Novi, Marcus Strickland experimented with hip-hop influenced production techniques, blending musical genres with help from Meshell Ndegeocello. That process prompted a realisation that he should free himself from concerns about “what is or isn’t jazz”.
Having removed those barriers enabled the multi-instrumentalist to set out on a new path, sonically tracing the African diaspora from the present to the past in order to get to the heart and soul of his musical identity. Strickland sees how those roots clash, but also go hand in hand with the music he and other black Americans have created.
On his new CD Strickland writes, performs and produces in collaboration with his Twi-Life band. The results provide for an inventive and absorbing album, an amalgam of influences criss-crossing from West Africa (culture, Afrobeat, percussion) to America and back – (post-bop, funk, soul, hip-hop, beat music).
Fans of Strickland’s outstanding tenor saxophone on Blue Note All-Stars’ 2017 Our Point of View, featuring Robert Glasper and Lionel Loueke among others, are treated to some unfettered blowing here. They will also enjoy his alto playing and in particular his lesser-known obsession with the bass clarinet, whose darker tones add weight and dimension to the band’s rich musical palette. His use of vocalists and spoken word are well judged, with notable contributions from among others, Bilal, Jermaine Holmes and Akie Berniss.
The band is excellent; I particularly enjoyed Charles Haynes’ crisp drum accents, Mitch Henry’s work on keys and organ, featured on the title track, and Keyon Harrold’s trumpet.
Although there is a clear lineage to Strickland’s recent work with Glasper, this album stands very much on its own as a coherent, concise and personal musical statement. If anything, I feel that he could have added some playing time to the economical 45 minutes, without risking repeating himself.
Lullaby feat. Weedie Braimah; Timing; People of the Sun (feat. Mitch Henry); On My Mind (feat. Bilal, Pharoahe Monch, Greg Tate); Relentlessness; Marvelous (feat. Akie Berniss); Black Love; Build; Cloaked in Controversy; Aim High (feat. Jermaine Holmes); Spirit of the Music (44.58)
Strickland (ts, as, bcl, sopranino recorder, drum programming); Weedie Braimah (d, cga, pc, kyb, v); Kyle Miles (elb); Charles Haynes (d, pc); Mitch Henry (kyb, org); Keyon Harrold (t); Pharaohe Monch, Jermaine Holmes, Akie Berniss, Bilal (v); Peter Richterova, Kasey Hearns, Melanie Charles, Michael Strickland, Angelika Beever, Greg Tate, Dawn McGee Strickland, Vanessa Strickland (spoken word). Recorded HighBreedMusic, Brooklyn, NYC, 2018. Mixed Electric Garden, NYC, 2018.
Blue Note 6792334