Evan Dale // May 30, 2020
Jazz, soul, rock, and funk.
When it come to the most instrumental of music’s pillars, the organic instrumentation of music is what drives timelessness into history’s most important works. No matter how deep modern production and mastering is capable of driving something new and exciting into a track – a necessary step for creative evolution – it can never replace the heart and soul of organic instruments. The idea is the basis behind the sounds of modern electro-funk; the roots beneath the explosive neo-soul movement and how it differentiates itself from futurist R&B; the foundation for jazz and jazz vocalism’s reintroduction into more mainstream scenes. The youthful generations’ grandiose return to the stylings that favor instrumentation is rooted most in authenticity and tactile relatability – in the same way that music at large before the era of digital production and wholesome access to music creation with nothing more than a smartphone was rooted in the same. It’s not to say anything is wrong with a modern scene that allows more musicians more access to creation with less adherence to physical instruments and the ways of the past, but it is nice to see that moving forward, artists are opting to pursue both new ways and expand on the old rather than abandoning their roots.
How They Compare
When it comes to maximizing the instrumental pillars of jazz, soul, funk, and rock – implementing them, also into the grey areas between hip-hop and R&B – few modern musicians or groups have been able to embody the timelessness of their artistic predecessors than the Free Nationals. Having come up hand-in-hand with the rise of Anderson .Paak, the man and the group are largely a mutual interest. As the frontman and the stand-in drummer for the Free Nationals – the Southern California genre fluid band .Paak helped found back when he was still Breezy Lovejoy – have been creating free of creative restraints from the jump. In both directions, .Paak & the Free Nationals earned their transcendent stylings in unison with one another – all merging into both their collective sound and the aesthetic of .Paak as a solo artist, the expanse of their collective influences. In result, the Free Nationals have become modernity’s greatest living tribute to all the great bands to come before them, taking the mass of their influences and merging them into a sound rooted in, but moving beyond the past, into a post-genre realm where one track differs stylistically from the next, but is permanently tethered by their own invented aesthetic.
If there is any keystone pillar of music most important to the entirety of the mainstream and the underground, but least explored in its pure form, it’s jazz. But in a modern neo-soul scene, particularly that of the UK at large, a burgeoning jazz vocalism scene is growing adjacent in the fertile soil of London conducive to experimenting with fusion sounds. Fond of taking jazz improvisation and instrumentation and folding her soulful vocals through them, Poppy Ajudha is a force of genre fluid transcendentalism like no one else in modern music. Somewhere in the socially-charged grey area between Neo-Soul and Jazz – the most classically instrumental of modern scenes – Ajudha’s sound is the stylistic explosion of so many musical and non-musical elements merging into something altogether new.
How They Contrast
With their debut album having been released to acclaim and excitement across music, and with their stylistically fluid nature particularly broad due to their constant invitation of a wayfinding vocalist for nearly each new track, the Free Nationals are a supergroup meandering the almost mainstream for the most talented artists they can collaborate with. In result, their debut album was one of the broadest, most expansive, yet cohesive projects in memory, serving its purpose not as a strict addition to any corner of music’s styling, but in defiance of the very notion.
And though Poppy Ajudha unmistakably collaborates with many of the most talented instrumentalists alive – those truest to jazz’s tenets pumping their heart and soul into the smoky clubs of London – her work is more refined and dedicated to her specific lane. That being said, she has stepped out of her box, and never missteps in the process of doing so.
Proof in the Past
The Free Nationals are founded on the idea of collaboration at their very core. Largely removing .Paak from their picture en route to their debut project was a bold, but necessary step to prove they could and would collaborate with any other talented front man or woman in music, and mold a track to their collaborative strengths. They are one of the great collaborative forces in music – the Funk Brothers of our era.
Poppy Ajudha – by her very nature, is a collaborative force as well. Not only does her own brand of soulful jazz vocalism require collaboration with improvisational, proud jazz musicians, she’s also collaborated with hip-hop artists like Kojey Radical and UK soulstresses changing the world of R&B, like Mahalia. She would have no issue working with a band as talented as the Free Nationals, and in many ways, would pull them out of their whatever comfort zone they collectively have left for something rawer to their musical foundations.
How They Collaborate
The Free Nationals and Poppy Ajudha are a natural fit for collaboration. The Free Nationals are in constant search of wide-ranging, explorative fronting artists to push their music in a new direction and draw a new audience towards their musicianship. Poppy Ajudha is exactly that. Poppy Ajudha is in constant collaboration with her team of jazz instrumentalists, and thus has no issue working not only with a band, but with musicians that like to step out of the ordinary in favor of improvisational and unusual changes of pace. The Free Nationals are talented enough not only to keep up, but to love the excitement of something so new and challenging.
Whether a track just between the Free Nationals and Poppy Ajudha, or one that folds in the work of a rapper or another vocalist, everyone involved – assuming that potential adjoining vocalist was an absolute talent – would not only be able to find something new and exciting about the collaboration’s direction, but would also probably introduce a lot of ears to a lot of sounds they wouldn’t have normally discovered.
And isn’t that the beauty in a well-orchestrated collaboration?