The Baylor Project - Generations

The Baylor Project
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The Baylor Project - Generations

Marcus and Jean Baylor started in similar places yet took distinct and different paths to the place they now find themselves – as one of jazz music’s most respected and decorated musical dynasties. That path begins with family and church – for Jean in New Jersey and Marcus in St. Louis. Both attended college where music, and especially jazz, was a major component of their education. Marcus, a drummer, went to The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, while Jean majored in vocal performance at Temple University.

The Baylor Project - Generations

Marcus and Jean Baylor started in similar places yet took distinct and different paths to the place they now find themselves – as one of jazz music’s most respected and decorated musical dynasties. That path begins with family and church – for Jean in New Jersey and Marcus in St. Louis. Both attended college where music, and especially jazz, was a major component of their education. Marcus, a drummer, went to The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music, while Jean majored in vocal performance at Temple University.

The pair’s widest divergence may have occurred in the 1990s when Jean was half of the platinum recording duo Zhane and Marcus played drums for the Grammy winning quartet The Yellowjackets. But a connection exists even there because both groups are key to the soundtrack of 90s era music. Any discussion of R&B and 90s hip-hop soul would be incomplete without mentioning Zhane and The Yellowjackets helped craft what in the 90s became alternately known as smooth or contemporary jazz.

More recently the Baylors have come together both as husband and wife and in a musical marriage that is known as The Baylor Project. They’ve been productive and respected in that time, releasing their Grammy nominated debut album The Journey in 2017 (for which they won Best New Artist in the SoulTracks Readers’ Choice Awards) and then dropping Grammy nominated single “Sit On Down” in the midst of the pandemic. The former scored a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album and Best Traditional R&B performance while “Sit On Down” earned a nomination for Best Traditional R&B Performance.

Now the couple prepares to drop their new project, Generations, on June 18, and it would not be surprising if this record gets nominated in the jazz, R&B and gospel categories. Generations is that diverse and that good. An album drawing on that many styles and involving collaborators such as Jamison Ross, Jazzmeia Horn, Dianne Reeves, Kenny Garrett and Sullivan Fortner, just the name a few, could be unwieldy. However, Generations is both thematically and musically focused.

Generations is rooted in the strength and legacy of the black church, the power of the black family, the lessons of the black struggle and the timeless beauty of black love. The project’s June 18 release comes intentionally before the day when the nation celebrates all of the aforementioned qualities – Juneteenth. Generations features nine original tracks, two covers, a multi-generation family discussion about relationships and marriage and excerpt of a sermon by Rev. Larry J. Baylor.

The covers of “Infant Eyes” and “Love Makes Me Sing” highlight an outfit that is at the top of its creative game. The group turns Michael Wycoff’s R&B song “Love Makes Me Sing” into a jazz tune where the swing led by Marcus Baylor’s touch on the drums gives the track a Ahmad Jamal feel. Meanwhile, the lyrics that Jean Baylor writes for Wayne Shorter’s oft covered “Infant Eyes” turn the tune into a lullaby from mother to child.

Jean Baylor shines throughout this album, and she particularly showcases her versatility on the haunting spiritual “2020.” This tune has several movements. It opens with the rhythmic percussion and call and response of a work song, before it transforms into a blues prayer where Jean Baylor calls for spiritual, political and physical deliverance. “2020” then swells into an instrumental jazz conversation where Marcus Baylor’s drum work serves as the energetic foundation for saxophone improvisation.

“Black Boy” is another sweeping tune created with a focus squarely on the events that came to a head last year. In this case the group eyes the dangers that black boys and men face when they venture outside. The instrumental arrangement, rooted in the blues and gospel harkens back to works like John Coltrane’s “Alabama.” Jean Baylor’s interpretation of the lyrics into a conversation with where she wonders whether she will see him again is a powerful encapsulation of what every mother or father feels when their sons step out the door.

On “Striving,” the group showcases its mastery of the delivering a message of affirmation into a soulful, funky and jazzy vehicle that would have fit nicely on a Ray Charles set list, while “Happy To Be With You” is a joyous piece of gospel infused soul that transfers the listeners back to the Atlantic records of Aretha Franklin, as Jean Baylor guides us through a rollicking, brassy and churchy statement happiness in knowing that she’s found the one.

This is simply an excellent album front to back, and one that deserves to be heard. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 

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