May 10, 2011
What is immediate about Taylor Haskins’ sound is what made people perk up at the more recent emergence of musicians like trumpeter Christian Scott, and pianist Robert Glasper. Their youth combined with the individualism of their musicianship began to spread across the blogosphere and into the mainstream with an uproarious amount of forcefulness – a cool shower in a dense wave of relentless pulsating humidity. It probably did not hurt, in Glasper’s case, to have found a small portion of his uniqueness in the process of channeling the works of iconic hip-hop producer, J Dilla. Like his contemporaries, Haskins is not presenting sounds that are altogether unfamiliar, but they are the sonic equivalent of a breath of fresh air. In his case, that may have something to do with the individuality of his voice as a composer.
With his third release, Recombination, Haskins and his band perform with a bent for experimentation and a fearlessness that makes each track as memorable as it is important to jazz in the midst of its latest growth spurt; new musicians and bands have built brush fires across the performance scene and those ever-elusive Grammy statues are somehow falling into the hands of the oft-overlooked in a very palatable twist of fate for the masses of people waiting with baited breath for the return of live music on a scale rivaling the small clubs, underground performances, and rehearsals quietly breeding what could be considered a renaissance. Scads of musicians reclaiming and redefining one of America’s original and most iconic artforms, have made it their business to shirk conformity in composition as much as they have sought alternative means of getting their music to the masses.
People crave something substantial, and Taylor Haskins may not have picked a more perfect time to make as big a splash as Recombination is primed to make. Jazz, much like the rest of the music being produced and fed to the world, is at a point where labels and expectations matter much less than the sound produced, the passion behind it, and the feeling that those things impart to an audience. The band’s musicianship is simmered to a very potent concentrate – every cadence and note as refreshing and deliberate as the last. What we are left with is a sound without borders or yellowing edges, that is as much performance in deference to tradition as it is performance with a huge lack of regard for the limiting confines of playing by the book. Opening with “Morning Cadence”, the album will push the limitations of your woofers with a horn chorus punctuated by a deep cutting bassline that is equal parts sunrise, funeral dirge, and the last few moments of an orchestra tuning.
The band moves straight into “Here Is The Big Sky” with a brash guitar against a smooth silhouette of sound that has all of the density of a mudslide. In it there is the trickle of piano and Haskins peeking out from behind the heaving wall of noise to drop a gem of electricity that is as much Miles era electro-funk as it is reminiscent of Roy Hargrove’s not so distant effect-heavy Hardgroove. The use of effects pedals on brass and string instruments introduces a dynamic that can turn a straight-ahead theme into a crunchy warbling electric mutation of itself in mere seconds. Twelve tracks deep, it would seem that that kind of aesthetic could go sour quickly, but in the right hands it works. The addition of balls-out rock performance is not one to be taken lightly, as the theme envelopes and elevates the ear. If the purpose were to take you higher, it would be difficult to argue against Haskins’ success in this case.
Combine that with a very keen sense of rhythm and timing from drummer, Nate Smith, and what you have is an album full of drumming that while it is not excessively loud, is aggressive and full of the finesse it takes to handle the rich tones and buzzing sounds produced by band mates Henry Hey on keys, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Todd Sickafoose. Return To Forever would be quite proud of the music coming from Haskins and company. Every track on the album is single quality material; the music as impressive in casual listening environments as it is likely to be in performance. “Upward Mobility” is a showcase of jazz Funk trumpet over warm electric keys and Sickafoose’s unmistakably voluminous bassline. The elements are so simple, and yet they produce such a magically rich sound that continues with “The Shifting Twilight”, which is essentially Monder’s coming out party with guitar comfortably piloting much of the composition whenever he and Haskins are not trading places punctuating the rhythm.
The tracks on this portion of the release are very much reminiscent of the highly prized works from the catalogs of French band, Cortex and Philadelphia band, Catalyst. “A Lazy Afternoon”, ironically, is a track full of life and sounds very much like a composition born out of time the band may have spent shedding, ultimately ending up in a very productive zone and making the wise decision to record the results. While that may not be how it actually happened, the impromptu feeling of the track is a great break from the more deliberate and heavy themes on the album. Once “Lurking Shadows” begins it becomes even more likely that Haskins added the previous track in order to cleanse the listener’s palate, because the relentless electric bass and synth effects coming from keys and horns are a sonic TKO for anyone interested in challenging Haskins’ ability to be less big band and more bad man. “Mobius” is another major win for the rhythm section, especially bass and keys as Hey and Sickafoose create something that sounds like a musical attempt to build a world in a matter of notes. This particular track is constructed in what sound like a series of micro-movements that translate almost like listening to the birth and evolution of something very special. It may be possible that all of the music was composed with that kind of impact in mind. By the last track, Haskins stands at the helm of “Forgotten Memory…” and shines with the kind of finesse that allows him to make a bold statement without being over the top. Recombination is one of the most effective uses of a few tools and a handful of imagination; the musicians willing to push the limits of their instruments as much as they are willing to push themselves, as practitioners of experimental cool.
For more info on Taylor Haskins: http://www.taylorhaskins.com/
Words by Karas Lamb