Baltimore native Gary Bartz has remained uniquely engaged both musically and politically throughout his lengthy career.
“When [Bartz] walked into the studio, I was like, ‘Who is this 30-something-year-old man coming in here?’ Because his energy level was just that youthful. But there’s periods of his work that made such a difference in trying to push back against what life was like for them in their younger days. No differently than what Tribe was doing when we were 19. No different than what the younger generations are doing right now with the way that America is. And it still matters. It’s very important to always make that connection, to never disconnect from all the adversity that these luminaries had to go through, just to bring their horn into a room, to bring their guitar into a room, bring their drumsticks into a room. It’s really import- ant, and their music still matters. It’s just that simple. “It may seem a bit cliche, but it really is important, which is what Jazz Is Dead is all about. It’s really highlighting these luminar- ies and showing that their art matters, and it should be celebrated and should be honored. Blow the dust off of it, listen to it again and again and learn something new. I guarantee you heard one song 20 years ago and you’d hear it differently now.” Muhammad and Younge recently have released similarly premised recordings with vibraphonist Roy Ayers, keyboardist Doug Carn and Brazilian fusionists Azymuth, among others. But the albums grew out of live events the pair held while being spurred on by their manager, Dru Lojero, who was looking to spot- light jazz’s current viability and vibrancy—in a prepandemic era, at least.There’remore albums on the way, too. The only requirement seems to be that would-be collaborators deeply influ- enced the path Muhammad and Younge have followed. “Well, they’re all masters. It’s like, when can they be here? The door’s open,” Muhammad said about landing musical coconspirators for
the series. “When we started knocking on the door and people would see [the name] ‘Jazz Is Dead,’ they slammed the door on us. It was like, ‘Who are these people? Is this a joke? Is this real?’ Lonnie Liston Smith was one example. The fact that my name was attached to it made him go, ‘OK, what are they doing? Do they real- ly honor jazz? Tell me more.’ “Then, it’s not until they’re physically in the room with 500 very excited people—all ages, all ethnicities—losing it, that they really go, ‘Wow, you guys are doing something really spe- cial.’ And we’re like, ‘Great. Now, can we take this across the street to the studio and capture another level of [what] you’re feeling? Because we know that your music has done everything to get us to where we are in all aspects of our career. And we know there’s a lot more in you that maybe people are not [hearing].’ So, when Adrian and I go into the studio, we take—not their greatest hits—but the feeling of the songs that have impacted us, and we go, ‘All right, that’s the foundation, and we’re going to sprin- kle in some new stuff on top of it.’” On the Azymuth recording, JID004 , ensemble members unflinchingly deliver strains of Brazilian jazz with lush melodies and vibrational polyrhythms, though a bit less reli- ant on funk than the band’s earlier, 1970s incar- nation. Carn, though, frequently sounds tenta- tive at the organ on JID005 , despite finding his footing on super-funky cuts like “Lions Walk.” For some, entrusting their sound—and potentially their legacies—to a pair of musi- cians and producers from a place just adja- cent to the jazz world might be difficult. Bartz, though, seemed game from the start. Out of everythingMuhammad and Younge have set to tape for the label so far, their ses- sion with the saxophonist—who contributed to recordings by Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Joey DeFrancesco and a raft of other jazz luminar- ies—easily is the most beat-centric affair, com-
ing off like a live band recreating and extending its favorite drum breaks. “Adrian and I, our foundation is hip-hop,” Muhammad said. “So, that means—at least in my era of hip-hop, because it’s something com- pletely different now—it was about the break- beat. It was about finding all those records— mostly jazz—that had the illest breakbeat sections. There’s some funk records that had some great breakbeats as well. But jazz—it was something different, even the sonics of it. When you listen to a break from a James Brown recording, it’s just different. [The drums] were mic’d differently. So, there’s that, there’s the bass line, there’s the melody. “Listening to Gary, the other element that comes [across] in addition to those, obvious- ly, is the freeness of his horn playing, and also some of his lyrical melodies that exist in the songs. We wanted to capture that—just those elements. ... And so, him coming in and listen- ing to the music, we’re saying, ‘We really want you to be you.’ That’s what he did. I think that had he come in and said, ‘You knowwhat, guys? I want to change this and I want to change that,’ we’re completely open to it and we expressed that. But he was actually comfortable with what he was hearing.” “Spiritual Ideation,” the album’s first track, benefits from Bartz’s fantastical fluidity on alto saxophone, moving into its higher regis- ter when he feels the music needs that sort of underlining. (He picks up the soprano only for “The Message.”) The same holds true for “Distant Mode,” a tune that leans on Greg Paul’s flurry of drumming, and the round and resonant electric bass tones that have emerged as a signature of the Jazz Is Dead recordings. “Well, for the most part, they’re like Monk and myself—the way they look at the recording process. They like the first take,” Bartz said. “I like to be prepared, but I still like first takes. I’ve had so many different musical experiences that
32 DOWNBEAT MARCH 2021
Powered by FlippingBook