It has long been said by some that real jazz is dead, that the genre has been extinct since the late 1970's, mid-80's. As Miles blended jazz with R&B in the early 70's, the belief by many jazz enthusists is the genre became stagnant, with less improvisation in the music and more predictability. Where exactly did jazz go, and how did it get replaced by the radio-friendly smooth jazz? That's not a slight against smooth jazz. It serves a purpose; if nothing else it is a bread crumb trail to the pre-smooth jazz era, when jazz was both adaptable and improvisational and on the cutting edge. If you look around today's jazz landscape, you'll find very few bands that are more jazz than they are smooth.
A band like Next Collective is a breath of fresh air in the stagnant world of jazz. The eight member band gives you a lot of the old, through the lens of a bit of the new. Next Collective merges hip-hop/neosoul/pop/rock sensibilities with a progressive jazz/fusion feel that's right out of the 1960's and 70's. The band, a true sum of its parts, consists of alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, guitarist Matthew Stevens, keyboardist Gerald Clayton, keyboardist Khris Bowers, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Jamire Williams and trumpeter Christian Scott. Some of the members of Next Collective lead their own bands.
Next Collective's debut CD, Cover Art, taps into popular music as its muse to bring you a jazz that's both progressively straight-ahead and at times, avant garde. From songs like Frank Ocean's overture to Kanye West and Jay-Z on " No Church in the Wild" to D'angelo's hidden gem, "Africa" to "Fly or Die" by N.E.R.D to "Oceans" by Pearl Jam, Next Collective doesn't hesitate to use contemporary music to uncork their fusion jazz sound. Scott's trumpet work is sublime; he can be both scintillating and cool all at once. The horn arrangements overall complement each song, as both Richardson and Smith often improvise in different directions before pulling it back to perform in unison. Each band member gets his time in the sun, from snazzy, improvisational drum solos by Jamire Williams to soothing and hot tinkling of the ivorys by pianist Clayton. The keyboard and guitar work of Bowers and Stevens give Next Collective that avante/fusion sound that adds texture to their music. If one didn't know who originally recorded each song, you would think you were listening to original Next Collective recordings. That's how good Next Collective is at turning a gumbo of contemporary music into a jazz that evokes memories of the 1960's scene. That's not exactly an easy thing to master, but that's what Next Collective has done.
Cover Art is strong from the first track to the last. The jazz of Next Collective is a case study in how a band can adapt to today's times, while taking the listener back to a bygone era when fusion and avant garde jazz were still forces to be reckoned with in the music world. But it must be noted, however, that it would be nice to hear more original material from the band. Although Cover Art stands on the innovative curve in today's music world, Next Collective could easily get stuck in the same rut as many smooth jazz artists: performing covers to accommodate its audience. While new takes on familiar material provides an effective way of being introduced to the music masses, I hope thatNext Collective will not become a prisoner of its clever music angle. But for now we can bask in the beauty of Cover Art, an album you can feel. It puts you in many moods, from melancholy to sexy to introspective. With Cover Art, Next Collective beautifully covers all of its bases. Highly Recommended.
By Gabriel Rich