As ERIMAJ tuned their instruments prior to their set at Harlem Stage, the sounds of Jimi Hendrix and select tracks from J Dilla’s Donuts LP played over the P.A.; appropriate that these two groundbreakers were being heard as this group of groundbreakers were preparing to do the same. The brainchild of drummer Jamire Williams, known best for his propulsive work in the Christian Scott Quintet and most recently with Concord super group NEXT Collective, ERIMAJ, composed of Williams, trombonist/keyboardist/co-leader Corey King, bassist Vicente Archer and guitarist Matthew Stevens, have taken the reigns for music change today. Their music is so vast, it can’t be called jazz, R&B or even alternative, and that’s the way they want it.
Stevens ignited the set with a slow and thoughtful solo to introduce “Unrest,” which is also the opening track to Conflict of a Man. Williams soon followed, delicately rubbing his mallets across his kit as Archer and King (on Fender Rhodes) textured things with soft strokes. The group wasn’t playing a song as much as they were painting a canvas. They way they segued from “Unrest” to King original “Angela” to “This Song, This Night” was seamless and haunting, going from frustration to relaxed to ferocious; almost a modern response to Bitches Brew. What makes this cryptic, multi-hued soundscape live are the contrasting energies of each member: Williams played the part of the purposeful madman behind the skins; Stevens played his axe like a frustrated scientist; Archer seemed to be possessed by some tranquil spirit; King, particularly on Rhodes, appeared aloof and wandering.
The presence of special guest vocalist Alan Hampton brought a more structured, disciplined approached to the two songs he joined them on, the title track of Conflict of a Man and “Choosing Sides.” Hampton cooing, dutiful vocals gave to the two heavy compositions a sense of understanding, different from the LP’s vocalist Chris Turner’s more keening, albeit wonderfully affective, approach. Hampton’s syncopated chops on electric guitar complemented Steven’s with funky results, but maintained both songs’ voyeuristic vibe.
Once Hampton exited the stage, ERIMAJ promptly returned to its ghostly instrumentation on their standout track “Plants,” after which they treated the sold-out hall to two brand new compositions, hopefully being featured on their next album. First was the contemplative ballad “Who Does She Hope To Be,” finding King showcasing why he may be the best trombonist on Earth today with incredible dexterity and poise. Stevens’ guitar work, which is usually used as an accessory, has never been more melodic and monolithic. Then there was the mountainous anthem “Reverence,” composed by Williams, certainly the grandest, most striking piece of the set.
The evening ended with a shocker; album track “Social Life” featuring King on vocals! Having already showed off his prowess as a trombonist and keyboardist, King sang the song with anguish and soul. That just goes to show how unpredictable ERIMAJ can be, which is the cornerstone of their greatness.
Unrest (Journey To The Land of Milk & Honey)
This Song, This Night
Conflict of A Man (Featuring Alan Hampton)
Choosing Sides (Featuring Alan Hampton)
Who Does She Hope To Be
Words by Matthew Allen (@headphoneadditct)