Kris Bowers - Heroes + Misfits

Kris Bowers
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Like most jazz musicians, Kris Bowers’ talents are easy to appreciate and easy to take for granted. Jazz musicians and aficionados appreciate Bowers’ talent and his resume that includes a 2011 win at the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz Competition. Kanye West and Jay-Z, two hip-hop stars with keen eyes for talent, tapped Bowers to play on the 2011 album Watch the Throne.

We know that West and Mr. Carter can spot talent, but most pop fans don’t know or care who plays the instruments. People acknowledge the virtuosic talent of jazz players but they don’t understand the creative flights of fancy, the instrumental conversation that exists between a group of equal musical partners and they fail to understand the point of instrumental music.

Like most jazz musicians, Kris Bowers’ talents are easy to appreciate and easy to take for granted. Jazz musicians and aficionados appreciate Bowers’ talent and his resume that includes a 2011 win at the prestigious Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz Competition. Kanye West and Jay-Z, two hip-hop stars with keen eyes for talent, tapped Bowers to play on the 2011 album Watch the Throne.

We know that West and Mr. Carter can spot talent, but most pop fans don’t know or care who plays the instruments. People acknowledge the virtuosic talent of jazz players but they don’t understand the creative flights of fancy, the instrumental conversation that exists between a group of equal musical partners and they fail to understand the point of instrumental music.

That helps explain why jazz, an art form that depends on fans with an intimate knowledge of all of the players, struggles to find an audience. But these days the music doesn’t appear to have problem attracting a talented roster of players. Perhaps musicians such as Bowers like the wide creative palate provided by jazz music. That palate grows ever wider as this generation of Young Lions combines their skill in the craft of jazz musicianship with a fluency in the language of R&B, hip-hop and other forms of music.

With a CV that includes work with rap and R&B stars, it’s tempting to compare Bowers with another jazz pianist wunderkind, Robert Glasper. Bowers probably wouldn’t reject the comparison outright, but it wouldn’t be accurate liken Heroes + Misfits to Glasper’s Black Radio. For one thing, Bowers wrote or co-wrote all of the 10 tracks on Heroes + Misfits. Second, Heroes + Misfits is a jazz record that does not feature collaborations with hip-hop artists. At the most, Heroes + Misfits can be cast as a jazz-fusion album along the lines of something fans might have heard in the 1970s.

Of course, a song such as “Wonderlove” could attract interest from listeners if radio still took chances. An energetic rhythm section highlighted by Jamire Williams deft drumming and the jazz/funk bass of Burniss Earl Travis II provides the platform for the dueling saxophones of Casey Benjamin (alto) and Kenneth Whalum III (tenor).  “Wonderlove” is one of the tracks with lyrics and words are nothing short of poetic.

Bowers has expressed interest in writing musical scores for films, and tunes such as “Drift” show that he’d be strong in that area. The cut features changes in tempo that give each section a different personality and voice. Bowers knows how to use pace to build tension, and his soloing on the keys and the synthesizers on “Drift” and on tracks such as “Vices and Virtues” makes it easy to see why he won the Monk prize.

I believe that 2014 will be a big year for creative artists. Music fans yearn for artists who bring talent, integrity and unique voices to the game, and that is especially true in genres such as R&B, jazz and hip-hop where artists paid a critical and commercial the price for superficiality and pretense. If authenticity and virtuosity win in 2014, Kris Bowers will fit in nicely. Strongly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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