Live On The Green
Sam Wilkes is a master bassist – someone called him this generation’s Pino Palladino and I like that comparison. If nothing more it’s a great shoutout to a fellow adventurous bass traveler – but I’m sure to Wilkes it’s basically about as good as you can get. And if Wilkes hadn’t already told the world about how good he could get on his self-titled debut of 2018 then barely two months later he took some of the same players and laid out a bit of astro-turf as a dampener and recorded this live record which features many of the same songs again – but in newer and different arrangements.
In fact if WILKES is the album that showcases his playing chops, Live On The Green has him honing them in favour of flaunting his production and arrangement ideas. This is less about kick-ass grooves (although a version of that is there, in the spaces, hiding in places) and more about a fresh take on chopped ‘n’ screwed ‘manipulations’ of live recordings. Like Makaya McCraven – whose set of Gil Scott-Heron “reimaginings” is likely to be in my top 10 records of 2020 (I feel I can say that with some confidence already, too late anyway, I just have) Wilkes is interested in editing live and studio recordings together, in finding new spaces, in taking Eno’s idea of playing the studio and using it as an almost improvisatory tool. It helps that he has musicians like Sam Gendel (saxophone) on hand (Gendel’s Satin Doll might have already reserved another space in the Top 10 you know). These guys know the old jazz tunes inside out – and are perhaps more interested in turning them inside out to remember them that way.
Sometimes they credit it, at least in reference (The B Section of Inner Urge) other times you can feel and hear a sly remake or ‘re-take’ (such as Gendel’s slurry whispering of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme main theme on Alma) but even in all this cheeky deception the slipperiness is really in the playing rather than the intentions. It might be a new future jazz, 2020 soul redux, but there’s a liquid warmth; this is a hot bath as much as it’s any sort of hot take. There’s huge heart here. These players want you to relax deep into this sound. That’s what they’re doing. That’s where they’re going.
Wilkes’ version of Alice Coltrane’s Sivaya buries the chanted vocals and treats the hook of it as if the jazz version of a yacht rock mixtape moment.
There are deep, buried worlds in this music. And all in just 32 minutes.
It’s a marvel. A slowly twisting masterpiece.
Okay, so I’ve possibly filled a third slot in that top ten and we’re not even quarter of the way through the year…
There’s something very soothing, comforting about this music – it’s the new ambient, not just the new jazz. It’s the aural wallpaper we need right now. Or at least I should speak for myself. This is the aural wallpaper I need right now.