Bartz’s legendary sound goes modern
Jazz music is such an important aspect to the progression of Black music. The roots of Black music in America were formed with the help of jazz. Without it, R&B, rock, funk, disco, hip-hop and so much more would be completely different. With sampling becoming such a popular trend, it is common to hear more elements of jazz in these various genres more loudly and up front. As a huge contributor to jazz, Gary Bartz has been able to craft timeless work that still upholds today while putting emphasis on socio-political issues. His influence on the genre opened the door for the group, Jazz Is Dead, to reach out and collaborate with him on their latest release, Gary Bartz JID006.
Jazz Is Dead (JID), is a duo comprised of producers Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad. The former created a soundtrack inspired by ‘60s blaxploitation films and the latter is a part of the iconic hip-hop group, A Tribe Called Quest, who were known for their jazz loops. The two have come together to create this brand where they work with influential jazz musicians and bring their work to a contemporary sound. Their previous collaborations include: Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Azymuth, Doug Carn and more. While Bartz isn’t the first musician to work with the producers, JID006 gives a freshness and vibrancy that starts off their 2021 run perfectly.
The opening track, “Spiritual Ideation,” has an older feel to it. There’s less emphasis on modern elements, but the groovy undertones allow Bartz’s decorated runs to become the forefront of the piece. “Visions of Love” features a plucked bass that still holds such a strong position in the track even as the alto sax and vocals make their way in. The vocals match the bass with their lower register but are able to remain in power despite all that is happening around them. “Black and Brown” feels as if it’s transporting people back to the ‘70s with such a funky feel overall. Bartz’s playing feels the freest on this track as he competes with a cymbal over who is going to catch the listener’s ear the most. The ornamentation and control Bartz has leads to his victory against the consistent cymbal. “Blue Jungles” right off gives people a simple drum pattern, but it’s the booming bass that comes in to set the tone for Bartz. It starts to give a more contemporary feel due to the clearer use of synths as well as the saxophone being only slightly above the other instruments level-wise. Listeners hear every instrument and synth working together cohesively but still shining on their own.
Marking the halfway point of the album is the longest track, “Day By Day.” Just shy of five minutes, this track is the pinnacle of mashing the contemporary ideas to the older jazz ones. The track as a whole creates this neo-soul sound. The vocals get played around with so well that they sound as if they are an instrument sometimes. The drums, bass, guitar and a synth piano start it off before Bartz comes in. Eventually, more sounds get added, forcing people’s ear to go in many different directions. While all this is happening, it’s Bartz’s smoothness on the track that drives it home. A jabbing bass and quick drum set the tone for “Distant Mode,” but they are quickly interrupted by an explosion of an electric piano and synth. “The Message” feels modern in the heaviness the instruments bring. The attention of the lower-registered instruments at the forefront gives this gritty vibe. Even Bartz’s saxophone that was playing high trills earlier feels lower, dirtier than before. “Soulsea” finishes off the project with this perfect clash of tempos at certain points. The beginning sounds like the start to a funk-inspired R&B track but quickly changes once multiple instruments come together playing different tempos. While they may seem like a lot is happening, they blend well—like a chorus section singing different lines simultaneously. As this goes on, Bartz doesn’t allow for it to distract listeners to the many pitch changes and runs he executes.
After being in the game for several decades, one would think the 80-year-old Gary Bartz would stick to the sound he knows best. However, it is experience and acceptance into the progression of music that allowed for this collaboration to happen. Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge allows for Bartz to shine through with his playing that has rendered him a successful career. At the same time, they incorporate their knowledge of jazz and elements they excel in to create a project that could withstand time. The intricate time signatures fit with the jazz music from earlier days and the inclusion of multiple electronic instruments fit in with modern practices. Gary Bratz JID006 is a perfect example of learning from your inspirations.