11 November, 2012@8:13 am
“Here’s a guy at the intersection of the corner of jazz and hip hop.”
Karriem Riggins is heralded, albeit quietly, as one of the most talented musicians connected to hip-hop culture. Of the qualities present in artists with this distinction is the ability to traverse genres while fusing influences into their own creations. Riggins embodies this concept – as a jazz drummer he is a known collaborator with Diana Krall, Donald Byrd and Ron Carter; when it comes to hip hop production he’s set the soundscape for names like Common, Talib Kweli and Slum Village. This October he presented his duality via a solo debut – 34 tracks of instrumental hip hop on Stones Throw Records, equal parts jazz and hip hop, 100% fresh.
A trip to the Stones Throw website will hip you to the fact that Alone Together was inspired by the Arthur Schwartz composed, Howard Dietz penned show tune turned jazz standard of the same name. An interpretation of the first line of that piece, “Alone together, beyond the crowd,” suggests that Riggins’ sync of styles transcends the norm. If our eardrums are the judges this project holds true to that theory.
Originally released separately, when conjoined Alone and Together maneuver through moods and movements with minimal seams. Its linear quality feels something like chilling in a DJ’s honeycomb hideout witnessing the birth of a mix. Seems like he’s smoldering; just getting started on Alone, and by Together full-on flames are dancing and rising around his MPC.
Early on “From Detroit/Belle Isle” gives a necessary nod to his hometown of Detroit, Michigan, moving into a demonstration of one of his weapons of choice, “Moogy Foog It,” and later a subtly funky “Alto Flute” for good measure. The use of words and lyrics in the production, along with meaningful song titles send subliminals as we move “Up,” in “Forward Motion” and travel to foreign lands, the first of which being “Africa.” Smooth standouts like “Harpsichord Session” and “Double Trouble” lean toward instrumentation and charm us with their jazziness.
Together shifts to high gear from the drum and bass lead, zone-out promoting “daOOOOOH!!,” and silky self-described groove of “Tom Toms,” to the head-nod inducing “Because” and hard-thumping “Boy Is Doin’ It Right.” There are some crown jewels on this leg, notably the breezy, intercontinental “Summer Maddness S. A.,” and haunting chords of “Matador.” But with so much stellar material it’s difficult to single out moments of brilliance. “No Way,” “I Need Love,” “K. Riffins,” and “Bring That Beat Back” are all tracks that’ll make you do just that.
Alone Together is an abstract composition, with only one track breaking past the three-minute mark; much like the late, great Dilla’s Donuts. We’d be remiss not to acknowledge his spirit hovering over this album, which suitably concludes with “J Dilla the Greatest.” Powerful drums boom and roll, evoking emotion we can only imagine is lament over the fallen legend but also vibes of triumph. Riggins captures Dilla’s essence while remaining true to his own. For his first autonomous release, he’s come mighty close to perfection.
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