It’s not uncommon for artists to re-make/cover the music of their peers. The song most attributed to the late, great Whitney Houston is not one that was written especially for her, it is Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.” Nina Simone was known for reinterpreting songs like Frank Sinatra’s “My Way,” the Beatles “Here Comes the Sun, and Aretha Franklin’s “Save Me;” Donny Hathaway and Luther Vandross both performed Leon Russell songs so beautifully (“A Song For You” and “Superstar” respectively) that many are often surprised to learn that their favorite versions of the song are actually covers. Even Isaac Hayes recorded a few covers, most famously The Jackson5’s “Never Can Say Good-bye,” and Dionne Warwick’s “Walk on by,” flavoring the standard R&B ballads with his own hot-buttered soul. Most recently contemporary jazz pianist/producer Robert Glasper won a Grammy for Best R&B Album at this year’s awards ceremony for his stellar recording Black Radio that includes covers of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Sade’s “Cherish the Day,” and Mongo Santamaria’s “Afro Blue.”
Next Collective, a group made up of some of jazz’s brightest new stars, has flipped the art of the cover on its ear for their debut collaboration titled Cover Art, which was released this past Tuesday (February 26, 2013) under the Concord Jazz imprint.
Saxophonists Logan Richardson and Walter Smith III, guitarist Matthew Stevens, pianists/keyboardists Kris Bowers and Gerald Clayton, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Jamire Williams and special guest trumpeter Christian aTunde Adjuah (aka the artist formerly known as Christian Scott) are Next Collective, and together they represent what’s universal about music. With varied backgrounds that may have contributed to their divergent life soundtracks, these young men are all bound together by a commitment to the art of making jazz music. But, for more and more of these up and coming musicians, existing as a jazz artist no longer means that they have to shed their environmental skin in order to thrive in the jazz world. They’re discovering something really cool about being themselves in a world that requires them to be so vested in history, and that discovery has made its way into the jazz that they create.
On Cover Art, Jay-z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” is stripped of the crafty hip-hop braggadocio that pepper Watch the Throne’s content and is treated instead with a Next Collective swag that swings like the aural equivalent of Jean-Michel Basquiat in creation mode. aTunde Adjuah’s trumpet takes front and center managing to sound equal parts confident and exploratory while the solid instrumentation of the Collective turns the manufactured beats into a safe space for the trumpet to roam. D’Angelo’s “Africa” sticks closest to the original and that’s not a bad thing. Substituting saxophone in place of D’Angelo’s vocals, the groove is so laid back and cool that it just feels good. Perfect. Though Next Collective’s version of N.E.R.D.’s “Fly or Die” is far mellower than the original, Ben Williams goes in during his bass solo making it easy to forget, and ultimately care very little to remember, the original song’s hip-hop rock vibe. Jamire Williams set the tone though. His propulsive drumbeats guided the bassist down a funkier path that would surely inspire the men of N.E.R.D. to hear all the possible directions present in the music they created. aTundeAdjuah makes an appearance more than halfway through the song, adding a nice element to an already hip groove. The best work of (cover) art on the recording; however, is arguably, the group’s re-working of Pearl Jam’s “Oceans.” Though Stevens contributes a beautifully awesome guitar solo, what stands out most is that it sounds as if everyone connected with the song. It’s also the song that sounds least like the original, which gives listeners an opportunity to really focus on the Collective’s skill and creativity. Other covered work includes Little Dragon’s “Twice,” Bon Iver’s “Perth,” Stereolab’s “Refractions in the Plastic Pulse,” Drake’s “Marvin’s Room,” Meshell Ndegeocello’s “Come Smoke My Herb”, and Dido’s “Thank You.”
When all the reviews roll in about Cover Art, it’s safe to assume that much will be made about Next Collective representing the future of jazz. But jazz is jazz and art is art; what changes is the individual who takes on the challenge of playing the music. And that’s what’s beautiful about Next Collective. Listen to them play and there’s no question that they understand the art form. Fret not, the music is safe in their hands. But listen closer, if only for a moment, and what you’ll hear mixed in are the voices of a generation. Allow them to re-introduce themselves.