Bassist Jonathan Michel Blends Influences from Jazz, Hip-Hop, R&B, Gospel and his Haitian Heritage on Debut Album
Available December 4th, 2018 via Orrin Evans’ Imani Records, Jonathan Michel: MDR features Michel’s trio with drummer Jeremy Dutton and vibraphonist Joel Ross, with special guests Josh Lawrence and Melanie Charles
A lifetime of influences can be heard on Jonathan Michel: MDR, the debut release from bassist Jonathan Michel. From his upbringing in Connecticut as the son of Haitian immigrants to his apprenticeship on the soulful and eclectic Philadelphia jazz scene, from formative experiences touring the world with Grammy-winning R&B legend Billy Paul to his always-surprising residency at NYC’s thriving Smalls Jazz Club, Michel has honed a sound that is thrillingly modern without losing the thread of the tradition.
Jonathan Michel: MDR, due out December 4th, 2018 via Orrin Evans’ newly revived Imani Records label, features the taut yet spacious sound of Michel’s trio with drummer Jeremy Dutton (Gerald Clayton, Bobby Watson) and vibraphonist Joel Ross (Herbie Hancock, Ambrose Akinmusire). The three first came together as one of many combinations assembled for Michel’s long-running Smalls residency, catching fire with a unique sound and a deft ability to navigate sudden shifts in mood and direction.
Long attracted by the resonant, ringing sound of the vibraphone, Michel set out to put together a small band that could feature those qualities while drawing from his varied tastes, which range from acoustic jazz and gospel to hip-hop, R&B and house music. His intention on his first-ever album as a leader was to put together a collection of concise, melody-driven tunes akin to a pop album; where some of these pieces might stretch out to 20 minutes of blazing improvisation in a live setting, in the studio the trio focused on making tight, memorable statements.
“When you’re growing up listening to Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane and Charlie Parker, they have plenty of hits that are under four minutes long,” Michel explains. “When you come see us live, the chances that we’re going to have an under four-minute song are very slim. But in the studio, we’re trying to give a snapshot of the live experience. My intention was to present a piece of work that’s within the improvisational Black American Music paradigm and is just full of good songs.”
That paradigm, Michel continues, is an expansive one, but most importantly one that refuses to look solely backwards. So while the core of the album is an acoustic jazz trio, several pieces feature cutting-edge remixing by Matthew K. Evans, son of the album’s executive producer. While there are tunes on the album that swing, they do so in a way that would make today’s audiences move.
“We don’t dance to swing anymore,” Michel says. “So what’s the intention behind it in 2018? My hope is that the music comes across as something of this time as opposed to a swing feel from 80 or 90 years ago. My intention is not to sound like Jimmy Blanton or even like Paul Chambers in my beat. I’m trying to sound like Jonathan Michel in 2018, saying, ‘This is how we feel about swing.’”
Michel’s full-spectrum approach is evident from the album’s opening tune, an update of a traditional Haitian folk song called “Lót Bó.” Featuring vocalist Melanie Charles and trumpet player Josh Lawrence, the song pays homage to Michel’s Haitian heritage while grooving with an urgent house music feel. It’s followed by “Little B’s Poem,” perhaps the best-known tune by legendary vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, who had passed shortly before the recording session.
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