Kassa Overall thinks about sound the way hip-hop producers do: Anything can be transformed into a beat. With a background in jazz — he’s played with Christian McBride, Ravi Coltrane and the late pianist Geri Allen — the songs on his new album, I Think I’m Good, also have moments that sound electric and improvisational.
Based in Brooklyn, N.Y., Overall calls himself a “backpack jazz producer,” a cross between a jazz musician, a backpack rapper and a bedroom producer who uses his laptop as a mobile studio. Smashups between hip-hop and jazz have been happening for decades, but recent works by Kendrick Lamar, Flying Lotus and others suggest that the realm is maturing. Kassa Overall is accelerating that evolution, with sometimes-confessional observations and dramatic, unpredictable sonic landscapes.
“Show Me A Prison,” a lament about the American prison system, is one of several songs that viscerally describe the experience of confinement. While studying music at Oberlin, Overall was hospitalized after a manic episode. He’s only recently begun to talk about it, and he believes that his willingness to share led directly to some creative breakthroughs, like his haunting reworking of Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 on “Darkness In Mind.”
Kassa Overall recorded this album like a nomad. He’d show up at one of his talented jazz artist friends’ house or rehearsal space — he recorded Sullivan Fortner at the piano in the kitchen of his studio apartment — and, without divulging much about the track, encouraged loose, free-form exploration. Then he’d go home and chop up the results, sometimes micro-editing beat by beat or phrase by phrase.
Despite all that detailed work, I Think I’m Good is alive with spontaneity and outcomes too wild to be scripted. It’s not another jazz-meets-hip-hop scrum: It’s the sound of whole new lanes opening up.