Isma Hill - The Line (2014)

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    On the rise from an experimental underground that included rubbing elbows with Brendan Reilly (Basement Jaxx) and world star Manu Dibango, super-talented Paris native Isma Hill (born Isma Benhabylès) is finally breaking out on his own. His debut LP, The Line, which took exactly two years to piece together, brings together seven tracks and a wide world of eclectic R&B styles featuring atmospheric jazzy riffs, polished production and a front line of emerging soul singers. Co-writer and arranger on virtually every note, Hill sits back in the musical chamber like Herbie Hancock on cruise control while his accomplished six-piece band knocks on the door of neo-soul-meets-hip-hop fusion.

    On the rise from an experimental underground that included rubbing elbows with Brendan Reilly (Basement Jaxx) and world star Manu Dibango, super-talented Paris native Isma Hill (born Isma Benhabylès) is finally breaking out on his own. His debut LP, The Line, which took exactly two years to piece together, brings together seven tracks and a wide world of eclectic R&B styles featuring atmospheric jazzy riffs, polished production and a front line of emerging soul singers. Co-writer and arranger on virtually every note, Hill sits back in the musical chamber like Herbie Hancock on cruise control while his accomplished six-piece band knocks on the door of neo-soul-meets-hip-hop fusion.

    Much of the disc falls into the comforts of modern-day lounge soul. After a poetic introduction set in a spoken word Jill Scott marinade by Jennifer Phillips, “Moments” reveals New York soul singer Darien Dean on a song embossed with Musiq Soulchild finesse. Thanks to an earnest memory bank deposit on the chorus, the mid-tempo neo-soul gem proves to be the album’s standout. “On my hard days, nothing can solve my problems/But your face, good love is something that’s hard to find,” Dean sings effortlessly using D’Angelo gusto.

    The album is ripe with solid performances: Phillips impresses the ear using her jazzy low notes and pop-ready belting on the gospel-influenced ballad “Stronger;” “Love It When We Do” – highlighted with Hill’s robust organ and funky bass – vividly exposes the vocal beauty of UK’s Elisha La’Verne. Attached to the romantic vibes of the title cut and much of Hill’s jazzy escapades are a succession of delicate lyrics. “True love never fades,” Phillips beautifully belts on “Stronger.” It is that message of hope and the many other positive expressions that help create the prevalent spirituality on Hill’s debut.

    Toward the back of The Line, Hill fires up a few throwback jams (“Let’s Get Funky,” “Dance With You”), ushering the band into a groove territory that appeals to jazz and funk aficionados. There’s even an EW&F lyrical nod used on the laidback hip-hop offering, “Jill.” A “prog edit” of “Moments” help closes out the disc.

    As a result of the album’s brevity, the span of genre-hopping and style experimentation burdens Hill’s project. Nonetheless, one will walk away from The Line with a renewed sense of pride about life and the future of R&B. Even if it took two years and something resembling a United Nations treaty to make it, Hill’s first major musical assignment is worth enjoying. Recommended.

    By J Matthew Cobb

     
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