Kirk Whalum - Humanite (2019)

Kirk Whalum
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Kirk Whalum - Humanite

Sax man Kirk Whalum is a citizen of the world who as a band leader, side man and studio musician has performed with legends. But in a way, all roads lead back to his native of Memphis. That city is the crossroads for much that is a part of our spiritual, political, cultural and economic world.

Whalum got a close up look at the political and economic when as a boy he witnessed the sanitation workers strike that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King to the city where he would be assassinated. Family endowed Whalum with his deep love of the church, as well as his appreciation for jazz.

Kirk Whalum - Humanite

Sax man Kirk Whalum is a citizen of the world who as a band leader, side man and studio musician has performed with legends. But in a way, all roads lead back to his native of Memphis. That city is the crossroads for much that is a part of our spiritual, political, cultural and economic world.

Whalum got a close up look at the political and economic when as a boy he witnessed the sanitation workers strike that brought the Rev. Martin Luther King to the city where he would be assassinated. Family endowed Whalum with his deep love of the church, as well as his appreciation for jazz.

Memphis became a center for his musical development, with its roots in the sanctified church, as well as being the crossroads where the blues and jazz spread throughout the country from the Mississippi delta. Whalum left home to attend college and then become a professional musician, and he made connections as a much in demand session musician, side man and band leader, who was on the lookout for emerging talent.

Whalum seeks to bring all of that history together on Humanite, his latest album. He collaborates with artists from Japan, Indonesia, South African, the UK and Kenya. Humanite includes covers and originals, gospel, music of uplift and social protest R&B; world music with jazz being the connective tissue that binds the work together.

Whalum and French Nigerian singer/songwriter and spoken word artist Asa bring history, jazz and world music together on the protest song “We Shall Overcome You,” with the title nodding toward the hymn that was one of the Civil Rights Movement’s anthem, but transforming the aspiration into a demand by adding the word ‘You.’

The song “Now I Know” features South African singer/songwriter and guitarist Zahara on vocals. A multi-lingual artist, Zahara often sings in her native language of Xhosa and English, and she continues that practice on “Now I Know.” Whalum (an ordained minister) and Zahara know their audience as she performs the song’s hook in English, and the verse in her native language of Xhosa, and it would not be surprising if “Now I Know” has an extended life as a praise and worship song.

The  instrumental “Korogocho” finds Whalum showcasing his creativity as an improvisor on the foundation of Marcus Miller’s percussively funky bass playing. The tune also gives Miller ample opportunity to showcase his prowess as an improvisor, and he take full advantage with his signature plucking and thumping as well as some sweet runs.

Whalum’s years of working with R&B titans such as Luther Vandross and Whitney Houston give him of comfort level that comes through on the three covers of soul classics “Move On Up,” “Wake Up Everybody,” and “Wild Flower,” but shines brightest on the “Don’t Get Me Wrong,” a delightfully bouncy track that fuses the tight horn work of Earth, Wind & Fire with a Chic inspired bass line, vocalist Mi Casa’s sweet tenor, and some wicked improvising.

While I on’t know how comfortable Rev. Whalum will be with the use of the word “wicked,” but it is definitely a compliment both for this song and for the album. This is ultimately a signature collection that calls on the unique history that Kirk Whulum brings to his music, and that personal imprint shines brightly. Solidly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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