Collaborations are always tricky business. There is no way to ensure that artists will have personal and creative chemistry. It simply has to be a good fit and there are so many factors that affect whether or not it will be. But, generally speaking, the more musically-capable a musician is, the wider range he or she may have, the better the odds are that an artist will be able to play nice with another.
When it comes to particularly musical artists, especially in the modern scene, it's a safe bet to look towards those that have been able to successfully introduce and blend a more traditional sound or styling into the modern market. With art's general tendency to tear down its own past and rebuild from the scraps, an artist with the ability to modernize something that has survived generations proves a certain level of genius and creative endowment.
In music's current environment, where more traditional sounds are in many ways thriving, a plethora of soul vocalists, funk artists, and jazz musicians have populated the scene and brought with them, a more appreciative, musically-understanding fan base.
So, for this week's collaboration, we want to quench the thirst of that fan base and put together a show stopping collection of artists. But in order to do that and hold true to the instrumental poetry of more traditional values, we need to reach beyond the usual duo, and instead assemble a jazz quartet, albeit not one in the usual sense.
Adding a vocalist to front a jazz band is a risky move. The difficulties of singing atop the performance requires not just talent, but a practiced hand, able to shift and adjust with the band, at the drop of a high hat. But for that position, we thankfully have the perfect fit.
Constantly surrounding herself and blessing her music with artistically inclined jazz instrumentalists and multidisciplinary creative powerhouses like Kojey Radical, Poppy Ajudha is an obvious starting point from which to build upon. The South London vocalist is at the forefront of a career exploding with success and high-hanging creativity. Her recent project, FEMME, though only her second career EP built upon a handful of singles, is a masterpiece of global proportion. She's in no way shape or form the typical coffeehouse jazz vocalist. Instead, her style is one comprised of an emotionally-capable, unequivocally unique, and simply beautiful voice delivery her string of poetic lyrics focused on love, heartbreak, and the power of femininity.
If the power of women in modern music is best exhibited through a force like Poppy Ajudha, then Me’shell NdegéOcello is another necessary piece to the puzzle. The DC-raised multi-disciplinarian is fond of the double bass, guitar, percussion, milky vocals, and keen ability for well-placed rap verses. Throughout her long career stretching back to the early 90’s, she has been nominated for ten Grammy’s and even been credited for having sparked the neo-soul movement. She is the very definition of a supremely talented and unfathomably successful artist who has gotten to where she is today thanks to her unique touch to any of the vast range of styles in which she dabbles. Her vocal approach is smooth, undertone, and wholesomely calming, while her bass is more of the same, coming together to create an auditory environment worthy of rainy days and bittersweet memory. Her 12th studio album, Ventriloquism, was just released and as expected, is a masterpiece living up to the well-earned but difficult to defend expectations.
When discussing high expectations, deep canons, and remarkably successful careers in the world of jazz and soul, it’s impossible to look past Terence Blanchard. The New Orleans jazz trumpeter has built a reputation rivaled by very few in music’s history. Built upon 20-something albums, a dozen film scores, 13 Grammy nods, five wins, and an incalculable number of further awards, acclaim, and assistance to the work and careers of others, Blanchard is an artist of the utmost importance whose work not only to preserve jazz in modern times, but to have an everlasting effect upon it, makes him a musician of legendary proportion. Aptly described by the Monterey Jazz Festival as "one his generation’s most artistically mature and innovative artists,” Blanchard is also a well-respected “and committed supporter of jazz education.” Seated as the Artistic Directed of the Thelonious Monk Insititue of Jazz since 2000, Artistic Director of the Henry Mancini Institute at the University of Miami since 2011, and a visiting scholar of jazz composition at Berklee School of Music in 2015, Blanchard in many ways is responsible for molding the artists of tomorrow.
One of his most impressive and successful protégés is acclaimed jazz pianist, Aaron Parks. The two have collaborated, and continue to do so, many times over the course of their time with one another dating back to Parks’ first touring with Terence Blanchard’s band when still a teenager. Since, Parks has not only worked as the preferred pianist accompaniment of Blanchard, earning a shared Grammy for their project, A Tale of God’s Will (A Requiem for Katrina), but has also built an impressive career of his own. Six albums deep and overflowing with praise, Parks’ canon is an intriguing blend of traditional and modern technique, making him a challenging yet approachable artist for longtime jazz fanatics and novices alike.
The coming together of sounds and stylings far and wide, and the coming together of fans from all four artists included in the project, bring to it a tremendous platform. Stretching across instrumentation, techniques, audiences, and themes, they form a quartet as differentiated in their musical approaches as possible. Yet, through the common lens of jazz and the unmatched prowess each has proven, there is little doubt that a collaboration would not only be possible, but wildly successful.
Poppy Ajudha and Me’shell NdegéOcello, with their more mainstream reach and focus, thanks in large part to their utilization of vocals, would undoubtedly mesh well sharing the microphone and working in harmony with one another, while NdegéOcello, Blanchard, and Parks – an absolute All-Star roster of jazz instrumentalists – would drive the music with a practiced and steady set of hands. Any fan of the four, would enjoy such a joint venture, while simultaneously be driven to new artists and jazz stylings, widening the view of many in the name of good music and Collab Elation.