Written by Michelle Mercer from NPR
For its 75th anniversary, the venerable Blue Note Records wanted to celebrate jazz’s present as much as its past. The label’s current roster includes some of today’s most dynamic composers and players: Keyboardist Robert Glasper, trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, saxophonist Marcus Strickland, guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Derrick Hodge and drummer Kendrick Scott. Coming together as the Blue Note All-Stars, their debut album, Our Point of View, which is available now, is a collective manifesto and a portrait of contemporary jazz.
Today’s Blue Note artists reckon with the glory days of the 1960s, when the label dominated the jazz landscape with a spate of influential recordings. The All-Stars honor that legacy by covering two classic Wayne Shorter tunes, updating his “Witch Hunt” with some millennial intensity.
But it’s the All-Stars’ original compositions from each band member that give the album its passion, building on the past with current jazz values: They have equal respect for electric and acoustic textures, handle odd meters, hip-hop and R&B grooves with the same dexterity and tend to write their tunes from the rhythm up. Glasper’s tune “Bayyinah,” for example, is a forceful, epic statement of everything he wants modern jazz to be.
The album also incorporates styles from the musicians’ rich cultural backgrounds — Loueke is from Benin, and Akinmusire is Nigerian-American — and suggests how globalization has broadened jazz’s character and range. Strickland’s saxophone solo naturally grows out of African dance music on Loueke’s “Freedom Dance”; the track has the stimulating blends and easy momentum of a good house party, where anyone who knows how to play is welcome.
The album’s most moving tunes come from Derrick Hodge. On Hodge’s “Message of Hope,” the band luxuriates in descending lines, taking on the mood of a church choir that keeps singing after the congregation has left, just for the joy of it.
Our Point of View is most compelling when the musicians are not preaching a self-conscious or strident message. In their best moments, the All-Stars play for the love of jazz; they play to wash away the dust of everyday life. And that might just keep Blue Note Records and jazz going forever.