MARCUS STRICKLAND TWI-LIFE: ‘People Of The Sun’ (Blue Note/Revive)

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                          Originally from Gainesville, Florida, multi-reed man, Marcus Strickland, is forging a reputation as a genre blender with his tremendously versatile Twi-Life band. His previous album and debut platter for Blue Note, 2016’s ‘Nihil Novi,’ harmoniously married jazz improv with hip-hop and contemporary R&B tropes, but here, on his sophomore outing for the iconic New York jazz label, Strickland has added perceptible Afrobeat elements into the mix to create a truly “genre fluid” sound.

The album’s title alludes to the African diaspora, and over the course of eleven tracks, Strickland explores different themes related to the African American experience but more importantly, perhaps, the album is a quest to discover his own identity. As well as music, there are spoken narratives, which bind the songs together with a unifying sense of oneness. Besides his dependable Twi-Life band – Mitch Henry on organ, Kyle Miles on bass and drummer, Charles Haynes – Strickland is joined by R&B singers, Bilal and Akie Bermiss, plus rapper, Pharoahe Monch. The end result blurs the boundaries between different black music genres.

The music ranges from exploratory, jazz-oriented instrumental cuts – such as the excellent ‘Build,’ ‘Relentless’ and ‘Timing,’ all featuring Strickland on saxophone – to mesmeric hip-hop tinged grooves, like the ‘Cloaked In Controversy.’ More reflective is ‘On My Mind,’ a treatise on cosmic love narrated by writer and cultural commentator, Greg Tate. It also featuring Bilal’s haunting, almost celestial, vocal, which is counterpointed by Strickland’s resonant bass clarinet over an oozy trap beat. Veteran MC, Pharoahe Monch, contributes an incisive rap.

Brooklyn soul man, Akie Bermiss, adds a strident vocal on the trippy ‘Marvelous’ while in acute contrast, ‘Black Love’ is a simmering slow jam laced with warbling bass clarinet and interwoven with a host of different spoken narratives. Intertwining horns define the more upbeat ‘Aim High,’ an ode to aspiration, featuring R&B singer, Jermaine Holmes. The track features Strickland on bass clarinet, while the horn lines and groove draws on Afrobeat.

‘People Of The Sun’ is an impressive offering that shows 39-year-old Strickland maturing into a disparate and substantial artist. At heart, he is a jazz man who lives and breathes improvisation, but as this remarkable album shows, his musical psyche is a complex one as his influences are disparate and far-ranging. And it is those same influences – hip-hop, contemporary R&B, and Afrobeat, to name three of them – that are helping Marcus Strickland to make jazz relevant again and shape a new and exciting kind of urban music.

(CW) 4/5

Read SJF’s 2016 interview with Marcus Strickland here: