At this juncture in the early 21st century, jazz is undergoing one of its circular metamorphoses where it intersects with the popular music and production of the day. From the Robert Glasper Experiment and Kamasi Washington in the U.S. to Sarathy Korwar, Shabaka Hutchings, and Nubya Garcia in the U.K., global jazz, hip-hop, R&B, Afro-Cuban, and modern jazz embrace one another. Saxophonist and composer Marcus Strickland is a seasoned veteran who helped to pioneer this new rhythm and production aesthetic in jazz with 2006's double-length Twi-Life and 2016's brilliant, Meshell Ndegeocello-produced Nihil Novi, his debut for Blue Note. Since then, Strickland has toured the globe as a headliner with Twi-Life (keyboardist Mitch Henry, bassist Kyle Miles, and drummer Charles Haynes) and as part of the Blue Note All-Stars. On many levels, People of the Sun picks up where Nihil Novi left off, but goes deeper and wider. The previous set was deeply influenced by Strickland's cultural and musical upbringing. As a child he was exposed to both Afro-Caribbean traditional and popular sounds as well as Southern rap, Motown, John Coltrane, and George Clinton's P-Funk enterprise. Those sounds and many others entwine inside groove-laden post-bop, modal, and contemporary jazz frameworks while extending and subverting the entire jazz tradition. In addition to his bandmates, Strickland enlisted close collaborator and trumpet ace Keyon Harrold and Cuban session percussionist Weedie Braimah. The latter appears on five tracks, including the soulful contemporary jazz opener, "Lullaby." The tune winds around a singular melodic frame from the leader's tenor saxophone and bass clarinet together with a sultry pulse by Henry's swelling organ, nearly lyrical percussion lines, and Miles' thrumming bass. "Timing" weds nocturnal Afro-beat grooves to limber funk and modal lyric lines. "On My Mind" features a triumvirate of Afro-futurist delivery from Pharaoh Monche, Glasper, and Burnt Sugar's Greg Tate, before the bass clarinet and rolling drum kit center it in trap rhythms and drop basslines. "Relentlessness" begins with a post-bop modal frame centered in wafting B-3, cymbal crashes, and electric bass before Henry's keyboards transform themselves into an EFX machine, creating a foundation for Strickland to solo at length. "Aim High" opens with Harrold's horn, Haynes' crisp snare breaks, and a dubwise bass, before Strickland enters doing his best Fela Kuti on tenor as the trumpeter creates a sweeping harmonic backdrop. Jermaine Holmes enters and adds his sweet yet arid, souled-out vocals atop the slippery trap beat. On People of the Sun, Strickland is a modern-day griot who adventurously traces the history and mystery of the African diaspora from ancient to the future in order to reframe the lines of his own identity, all the while discovering the links and evolution tying together musical, historical, and cultural traditions in contemporary society and thought.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek