Marcus Strickland Blends Genres to Trace African Diaspora On ‘People of the Sun’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

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Brooklyn-based composer-saxophonist Marcus Strickland is part of the new vanguard of contemporary jazzmen like Robert Glasper and Kamasi Washington, intersecting jazz with contemporary music and production techniques to deliver genre-bending statements. Logan Richardson, Dana Murray, and Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah are among other names too. This movement, or resurgence of jazz, is capturing new audiences both in the U.S. and the U.K as hip-hop, R&B, Afro-Cuban rhythms and modern jazz from post-bop to modal with traces of avant-garde blend together in creative artistic statements. Marcus Strickland helped lead the movement to new rhythms and production value twelve years ago with his double-length Twi-Life and 2016’s acclaimed Nihil Novi with Meshell Ndegocello. People of the Sun extends those sounds but goes much further.

Strickland’s previous work was deeply inspired by his cultural upbringing in Miami where he was exposed to traditional Afro-Caribbean music and at home Stevie Wonder, Trane, and P-Funk. Here he continues to work with his Twi-Life band of keyboardist Mitch Henry, bassist Kyle Miles and drummer Charles Haynes abetted by guests: close friend and trumpeter Keyon Harrold, Cuban session percussionist Weedie Braimah, and vocalists. Orators Bilal, Pharoah Monche, Greg Tate, Akie Bermiss Jermaine Holmes, and others. Strickland plays an array of reeds; sopranino, alto and tenor saxes, and notably bass clarinet in addition to drum programming and keys.

Strickland describes the theme of the album, “I’m thinking about where we came from and how that clashes and goes hand in hand with what we’ve created here as Black Americans.” The album covers plenty of territory geographically and sonically from West Africa (griot culture, Afrobeat, percussion) and America (post-bop, funk-soul, beat music).

The opener, “Lullaby” is straight contemporary jazz as Strickland merges tenor and bass clarinet around Henry’s swirling organ, melodic percussion, and Miles’ bass lines. “Timing” has the same instrumentation but moves into an Afro-beat, funk groove. The interplay between Miles’ bass and Haynes’ rapid-fire traps creates a bustling scene that Strickland glides over, envisioning himself as “being a black superhero, soaring through the air trying to save my people.’

”On My Mind” features the trio of Monche, Glasper and Tate in a combination of spoken word and vocals before the bass clarinet and rhythm section bring it home.  Strickland’s most extensive tenor solo comes in “Relentlessness” across a post-bop modal framework. “Marvelous” finds Strickland at sopranino., tenor, bass clarinet and drum programming as Akie Bermiss and Braimah deliver vocals. “Black Love” has a dialogue among four voices with Strickland on bass clarinet. “Aim High” opens with Harrold’s trumpet, Haynes’ crisp snare beats, and a dub-styled bass line before Strickland enters on tenor amidst the backdrop from Harrold. Jermaine Holmes joins with soulful vocals

Strickland inventively ties together the many historical and cultural traditions from Africa to contemporary America. In  the process, he runs the gamut from chaotic to calm in this intriguing piece.

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