Commencing with a takeoff scene that recalls that of Charles Earland's Leaving This Planet, Chris Dave's proper debut as a leader aspires to transport the listener. Likewise, a sense of escape was something the drummer, composer, and producer wanted to establish in L.A.'s Kingsize Soundlabs where, for a few weeks in 2015, he hosted and directed the 50-strong crew of instrumentalists and vocalists who comprise the Drumhedz. Taking into account the considerable overlapping personnel and an otherwise aesthetically similar variety of involved jazz, R&B, and hip-hop figures, Dave's debut prompts easy comparisons to contributor Robert Glasper's Black Radio sessions. Nonetheless, this is less an instance of "I got next" than the culmination of a three-decade career that has intersected with the players here (as well as gospel and pop artists ranging from Yolanda Adams and Justin Bieber). The core instrumental support for Dave is bassist Pino Palladino and guitarist Isaiah Sharkey. Keyboardist Cleo Sample and singer/songwriter Kendra Foster are among the variable cast that joins that trio, so the set unsurprisingly has the densely layered, spaced-out, and fiery qualities of D'Angelo's Black Messiah. Dave truly shows off only on the lone unoriginal cut, a robust version of Alan Pasqua's "Lady Jade" (misspelled "Lady Jane"), originally recorded by the New Tony Williams Lifetime. There are a couple off-the-cuff interludes, along with a polyrhythmic delight ("Dat Feelin'") with room to showcase Keyon Harrold's trumpet and piano and Marcus Strickland's bass clarinet and tenor sax. Those tracks excepted, the album is ultimately about songs, even when Dave's dubbed-out snares are ricocheting off the walls and the electronics are on the brink of haywire status. There are three stellar ballads: the aching Anna Wise and SiR duet "Job Well Done," Foster's psychedelic "Sensitive Granite," and Bilal and Tweet's steaming "Spread Her Wings." Additionally, there's the panoramic neo-Afrobeat jam "Black Hole," fronted by a typically ebullient Anderson Paak. In the steady rocking "Destiny N Stereo," Phonte, Elzhi, and Eric Roberson operate like a unified trio. The breezy "Atlanta, Texas," a conversation that includes Goapele, Rozzi Daime, and Shafiq Husayn, sounds like a trapdoor discovery from the latter's Dave-enhanced Shafiq En' A-Free-Ka. The ease with which the album can be enjoyed is all the more astonishing considering that it effectively applies and corrals input from so many of Dave's associates.
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman