Blue Note Reissues (part 3)

With the exception of Medeski Martin & Wood’s Combustication, my previous posts regarding the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Reissue Series have focused on the label’s older records. (Not that Combustication is exactly new; it was released in 1998.) This week, I want to address a couple recent releases. While jazz may have become highbrow and relegated to public radio, musicians continue adding to Blue Note’s legacy with creative and demanding music.

Released in 2014, Takuya Kuroda’s Rising Son features the backing band of jazz vocalist, José James. Led by Kuroda, the band plays soul jazz that sounds both old and new. This is no simple retread, however. Influenced by The Roots as much as Roy Ayers’ Ubiquity, the band succeeds at updating an old sound. Kuroda is not seeking re-interpret or re-contextualize (like his labelmate, Robert Glasper). Kuroda and his drummer, Nate Smith, strike a balance with funky beats and smooth melodies on the album’s original compositions.

Another recent album in the series, Ambrose Akinmusire’s The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint, manages to respectfully balance ambition and accessibility.  Like Kamasi Washington, Akinmusire has received attention for his work on Kendrick Lamar’s most recent album, To Pimp a Butterfly. Also like Washington, Akinmusire has not compromised his work to receive that attention. The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint is an especially difficult and long, yet rewarding, album.

That it’s so hard to describe is something I admire. Many of the songs on The Imagined Savior is Far Easier to Paint are relaxed, like on “Vartha.” On a couple tracks, he takes a backseat and allows vocalists to carry the songs. He even writes some challenging, Twentieth Century string quartet arrangements for a few songs. While his band dabbles in many styles, the album remains cohesive and benefits from Akinmusire’s vision. And even at 79 minutes, the album feels concise. I know that all sounds crazy, but you’re just gonna have to trust me. Discerning music listener, this album is worth your effort.

In my next (and final) post in this series, I will address my favorite album in the Blue Note 75th Anniversary Reissue Series. Until then, don’t be afraid to enjoy difficult music. Don’t be afraid to allow a record multiple spins before it starts to make sense. 

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