Fertile Ground


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This compilation by Baltimore, MD, soul-jazz outfit Fertile Ground is a well-rounded view of perhaps the most visionary, positive, innovative collective around that gets noticed in about five American states and a few select European countries. The reason? They do their own thing and owe nothing to any current scene out there. They are Afrocentric, community-minded, aesthetically developed, and artistically advanced. They fit none of the current "categories" (read: prisons) for black music in the marketplace as of 2001. Hopefully, this will change. The most visible sign that this is true is this compilation, issued not on their Blackout Studios label, but on the European Union-based Counterpoint. It brings together the band's early singles and selected tracks from their first two albums. The set opens with the poetry chant of "Libations" by founder/pianist/trumpeter/composer James Collins and diva Navasha Daya backed by a choir of percussionists. It is followed by the title track from Spiritual War, a deep soul-jazz groove highlighted and driven by African-styled percussion that takes its drum line from Namibia. The soul groove is influenced deeply by both Gil Scott-Heron and the music of Marvin Gaye and the early work of Jon Lucien. But the grooves are strictly modern; they swing, kick, and jump as they pop through a crystalline mix that serves to accent the emotion and precision of Daya's vocals and the considerably weighty messages her words carry. Other highlights on the album are "Ghetto Butterflies," "Runaway Slave," and "My Friend the Moon." But really, of the 16 tracks contained here, there isn't a weak moment. The soulful groove, the easy atmospherics, and the spiritually righteous message make this compilation as necessary as Fertile Ground's albums. This band is the best-kept secret on the soul-jazz scene. Let's hope this changes soon.

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