(Riker’s Island Records)

2010

Saxophonist Korey Riker’s music exudes the kind of chutzpah often found in the opening scenes of Blaxploitation flicks as the score introduces our hero, who somehow manages to walk in time with the beat of the theme after having manhandled a crew of local toughs.  In the case of Prehumous, however, the mood at the outset is a little less bank caper and much more fitting for the start of a workday, as people trickle from their homes in various states of consciousness to converge upon subway entrances and ultimately their day’s work with a sense of urgency.  The first of eight tracks, “BYOB” drops you into what feels like a bustling metropolis managing to keep pace with the energy coursing through its major arteries and back alleys by moving as aggressively, but with an air of relaxation and the addition of warm tones courtesy of pianist Luke O’Reilly on Fender Rhodes.  The band also includes appearances from trombonist Ernest Stuart and bassist Jay Bratten.

The establishing air of cool moves seamlessly into “Nine2Five,” the album’s second track brimming with a healthy dose of density from Riker’s saxophone and boom-bap timing from drummer Justin Faulkner, the newest addition to Branford Marsalis’ band; the slight of hand with which he moves between breakbeat and more traditional drumming may be one of the reasons why he is now backing the man behind Buckshot LeFonque, a group born of Marsalis’ true-school aesthetic that included legendary hip-hop producer, DJ Premier.  This music retains the same brand of cool that sold cigarettes and made movie stars in the fifties.  If nothing else, it may be easiest to play it safe and just say that Riker’s music has an abundance of soul.  A resume including major R&B acts like Mary J. Blige, John Legend, and Jill Scott is at least proof of that.  Relocating to Philadelphia from Washington State in 2004, Korey Riker has quickly settled into the local music scene, playing not only with his own band, but also with trombonist Jeff Bradshaw’s Brass Heaven, The Chris Aschman Group, and The Roots.

The album continues with two whopping spoonfuls of raw emotion on “Stealthier” and “Until Tomorrow,” both tracks giving credence to the idea that action speaks louder than words; the action in this case being the band’s choice to mic and play their instruments in a harmonious jumble of fragmented statements and pleading saxophone lines weaving across the register from cacophonous screams to whispers, all punctuated by the tandem of bass and piano chords.  “Stealthier” may be the dirge to the more upbeat declaration that is “Until Tomorrow.”  O’Reilly and bassist Nimrod Speaks essentially put on a clinic for the rising or rather unfortunate rhythm sections of today; the entire band playing more like they are on stage than in a studio.

The downside is that with most group performance outside the confines of a solo, you may ultimately blink and miss it.  Be conscientious enough to do yourself the favor of listening closely or even repeating a song to truly appreciate the level at which these musicians are playing.  The feel of this release runs the gamut from Lee Morgan’s early aesthetic on “The Sidewinder,” to the minor choral anthem of his last session with “Croquet Ballet,” and the street corner funk of Grover Washington Jr’s “Hydra,” most notably on Riker’s “Temporary Visa.”  Falling squarely in the path laid by the innovators of Hard Bop and Fusion is Korey Riker and his band of cohorts, who do great justice to the tradition of Washington’s legacy in particular, closing the album with “Audrey’s Gift.”

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Prehumous is considered the opposite of posthumous; a word suggesting that the recipient of an accolade has yet to achieve the necessary goals to merit the kind of recognition most people have not realized until well after they are deceased.  This is an interesting bit of information to consider in the context of this recording, which includes “BHO,” a track bearing the same initials as the current POTUS, a man often criticized by his detractors as someone undeserving of the praise and awards he has received.  There is no immediate proof that Riker’s track was an ode to Barack Hussein Obama, but the song itself carries with it the melancholy and bright moments indicative of his presidency thus far, which at least makes for spirited debate in such lean economic and promising musical times.

While the title of Riker’s debut release suggests otherwise, it does not seem like it would be too early to bestow at least a cursory distinction upon the personnel of this release as a collective talent of strong individual musicians working to elevate the position of jazz in the courts of popular music and opinion, by drawing from the tenets of the genre and outside influences with equal disregard for how those elements in practice will fall on increasingly opinionated and in some cases, limited ears.  This is jazz for and by students of music in all of its manifestations, who seem to be daring you not to like it.  It is also a pretty ambitious piece of work for a debut release; Riker’s tracks blending as easily as conversational segues and movements of an orchestral work tend to spring forth from the last poignant phrase.  It is music for the heads and the purists; the intersection at which the original fans of Mingus and Miles can meet their aging backpacker children in the middle to enjoy music that incorporates what typified the sounds of their respective salad days and maybe even understand each other a bit better at the end of the day.

Buy the album HERE

Words by Karas Lamb

 

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