Jazz is a conversation—an exchange of ideas between players, as well as between band and audience. Aside from pointing out, via the title’s wry joke, that the genre is very much alive, Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Adrian Younge’s Jazz is Dead series has also revealed that jazz is a vital dialogue spanning generations and genres, and in each entry the duo’s hip-hop, funk, and soul roots engage with venerated players like Roy Ayers, Doug Carn, and Marcos Valle.
The most recent entry pairs the duo with reedsman Gary Bartz, and it’s their headiest to date. Bartz has long been in dialogue with pop music forms—all the way back to his classic NTU Troop band of the ‘70s—so the octogenarian keeps step no matter what sound comes his way, grappling and assimilating without breaking a sweat. His horn slots readily into the simmering groove and scratching wah-wah guitar of “Blue Jungles,” while his melodic sing-song solo is every bit as dreamy as the shimmering keys and backing coos on “Day By Day.”
No disrespect to all the mighty drummers behind Bartz back in the day, but it’s a real treat to hear Bartz weave in and around Muhammad’s head-knocking drums. The breaks are crunchy and sweet on standouts like “Spiritual Ideation” and “Distant Mode,” with Bartz revisiting the sort of warm, buttery tone that turned him into a jazz-funk star. Streetwise rhythm and smooth melody in a beautiful exchange.