Wallace Roney: Mystikal
Mystikal, Wallace Roney's second outing on the HighNote label, continues in the path he first traveled with the 2000 CD No Room For Argument in laying out his own vision for jazz in the 21st Century. In what is essentially a synthesis of the dark-funk fusion of the '70s, post-bop harmonies, and various undercurrents of hip-hop and electronica, Roney's music is becoming at once more eclectic and more refined in its core conception. As to whether it truly represents the wave of the future, as it seems to aspire to do, that's a highly subjective question not likely to be resolved any time soon. What is clear here however is that Roney is doing a better job of integrating elements of hip-hop and electronica into a jazz context than many a musician who have come before him.
Truth be told, this record seems equal parts the synthesis music described and pieces that don't really conform to it. The reggae piece "Hey Young World," for example, is a complete wild card; it is welcome however as it shows a lighter, more outwardly "fun" side of Wallace Roney's band than we are used to hearing. If there is anything Wallace Roney could be guilty of after all it is a certain humorlessness as a musician. The cover of "Just My Imagination is a nice contrast in its own way as well. It could be seen through the jaded lens of being merely yet another nod to Miles (in his later covers of pop ballads), but the treatment given to it shows Roney to be a sensitive romantic no matter the motivation. The classic Bud Powell ballad "I'll Keep Loving You, played as a duo with his wife, pianist Geri Allen, has to be viewed as an affirmation of their two decade-plus romance. As such it's a nice touch and maybe even a little overdue.
The strongest track here, and probably the most representative of the band's concept, is "Stargaze." It wins praise for both its driving intensity and the seamless integration of Val Jeanty's samples and scratches. Intriguingly, it sounds as if it has one leg in the modern dance hall and another in the world of the brooding modal jazz that is Roney's bread and butter. The title track is a classic Roney composition at workpensive, built on leaping intervals and with a harmonic sound that is at once Shorter-esque and uniquely his own.
Roney's playing on Mystikal is some of his most lucid on record. The greater achievement, however, is the way he develops a template for how modern jazz can be re-immersed in funk rhythms without sounding dated, and how he then successfully merging turntablism into that same context. He actually provides suitable rhythms for Val Jeanty to improvise over, and they're used tastefully, almost like an atmospheric synth. DJ Pogo, with Courtney Pine, showed the way herebut no one else seemed to have really picked up on it until now.
It is clear that Roney is inspired by the 1970s electric bands of Eddie Henderson, Herbie Hancockand yes, Miles Davisbut he is determined to update the sound. And by integrating turntablism and more contemporary rhythms, he may be onto something. All that is needed now is a more bold, definitive document of his premise. While all of the last three Roney records have presented different angles, we can't be that conclusive about the quality and insight of his vision until an entire record presents the concept. Eclecticism is cool, but it can make you look tentative, too. Still, this is a good record and pretty fresh music overall.
Tracks: Atlantis; Mystikal; Stargaze; Just My Imagination; Hey Young World; Poetic; Baby's Breath; NiceTown; I'll Keep Loving You.
Personnel: Wallace Roney: trumpet; Antoine Roney: soprano & tenor saxophones, bass clarinet; Geri Allen: piano, Fender Rhodes, keyboards; Adam Holzman: keyboards, Fender Rhodes; Matt Garrison: acoustic & electric bass; Eric Allen: drums; Bobby Thomas, Jr.: percussion; Val Jeanty: turntables.