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“DD Review: Adrian Younge & Ali Shaheed Muhammed – Roy Ayers JID002.”


Score: 10/10

You have to admit, the plotline plays out like classic cinema: 1970s disco/jazz visionary Roy Ayers recording an album with apparently complete surreptitiousness (which given all the convoluted and obtuse criticisms of it by Pitchfork becomes understandable) in 2018, to then by all rights completely bury the completed project for two years, only for it to be “discovered” [1] by “Roy Ayers fans,” whatever the he** that means, and officially issued on Jazz is Dead, hence the acronymic title. And maybe jazz really is dead because this ultimately finalized product is like an human corpse buried without a casket, destined to rise to the top and emit all its stinking, unadulterated energy and vigor unto the world, the fact of its having originally been dedicated to February (Black History Month), of it coming out in Summer, which isn’t usually a big jazz time of year, and of my being over three weeks late listening to it, adding up to squat.

Just to make a couple of things clear, here, the Ali Shaheed Muhammed listed in the artist field is actually the Tribe Called Quest DJ and permanent group member, here doing a side project, and the “JID” series maintains Younge and Muhammed as the two mainstays, with each installment featuring a special guest appearance, this one by Roy Ayers, best known for the disco-soul smash “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” and its prowess to the point of being sampled in a track by Common. Then, to make a couple of things UNCLEAR, there is no Wikipedia page on this album and the Bandcamp interface doesn’t offer a “personnel” section. Pitchfork describes both Younge and Muhammed as “instrumentalists” and Ayers is credited unofficially with his trademark vibraphone assignment. From the way the music sounds, anyway, the drums seem to be organic and not programmed, hence galvanizing this session with a key ingredient of authentic “jazz,” invigorated even more by the snarky, tongue-in-cheek title that’s constructed like a pinata to be beaten.

Now, one thing this music is NOT is easy to describe. But then, describing it is not the point: the point is me here getting the word out about it, when Pitchfork sees unfit to put it on their “Best New Music” because of the semantic fact that it feels too much like a Younge product and not enough of an Ayers product. The exact complaint by Dean Van Nguyen, which inexplicably prompted the publication to lower the album’s rating down to a 6, was that “Rather than a lost Ayers classic, the album feels more like an interpretation of his music through Younge and Muhammed’s lens.” The writer elsewhere accuses Younge of being ham-handed in his project nomenclature, taking exception specifically to his former habit of doling the phrase “Adrian Younge presents,” but it seems to be beside the point here as Younge has apparently abandoned the habit now anyway and their purported manifestation of “an interpretation of (Ayers’) music through Younge and Muhammed’s lens” would seem to be an odd point of criticism, seeing as that’s exactly as what this album is explicitly billed, even in the title. Van Nguyen also seems to be operating under the fallacy that Ayers’ muse is somehow more important than that of Younge and Muhammed, and also that the average person can even name a single Roy Ayers song, much less one other than “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”

So with Pitchfork’s seemingly arbitrary compunction cast aside, Roy Ayers JID002 pumps forth as a bona fide, complex, rhythmic jazz album that sounds nothing if not fresh, and what’s more, I think, has an uncanny way of being exactly what it’s tabbed as: a fomentation of Roy Ayers’ musical stripes, grounded within the professional production mechanism of the two official “artists.” And just to further delve at the troublingly discreet creation of this music, the very fact of this album being under 50 minutes (it stands at a microscopic 26, as it is) is essentially a crime against humanity, particularly for its fresh, buoyant energy and the proclivity of the very musical genre toward lengthening songs. And if it seems like I’m dwelling on a lot of cultural matters here and not musical matters, it’s on one count because jazz has forever been a music theorist’s worst nightmare, with its general absence of chords, its irregular, sporadic intervals and prevalent polyrhythms, on another because for some reason this project seems so maligned by spiny, platitudinous analysis on the part of the so-called “critics,” not to mention being criminally overlooked by publications like Wikipedia.

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