Marcus Strickland: saxophones, clarinet; Keyon Harrold: trumpet, flugelhorn; Kyle Miles: electric bass; Jean Baylor: vocals; Robert Glasper: piano; Mitch Henry: organ, keyboards; Masayuki Hirano: keyboards; James Francies: keyboards; Chris Bruce: guitar; Pino Palladino: electric bass; Meshell Ndegeocello: electric bass; Chris Dave: drums; Charles Haynes: drums; E.J. Strickland: drums.
37-year-old Florida-born Marcus Strickland is a resourceful saxophonist, clarinetist, and composer who has been building a solid reputation through his own projects, as well as a sideman for Robert Glasper, David Weiss, Dave Douglas, Jeff Tain Watts, Roy Haynes, Charles Tolliver, and Ben Williams.
Nihil Novi, which translates to ‘nothing new’, is the title of his 2016 album of originals, the first on the Blue Note/Revive label.
His Twi-Life project, whose name came from the title of his 2006 double-album released on Strick Muzik and featuring two different quartets, brings emergent voices from the jazz sphere, but also maintains the recognized musicians that helped him to create his own path like pianist Robert Glasper (guest appearance) and brother E.J. Strickland on drums.
Marcus takes us on a personal journey, in which he reveals his vast musical inspirations through a triumphant fusion of jazz with other languages such as soul, R&B, funk, and hip-hop. Regardless of what the title advocates, Strickland actually creates something new by mixing all these diversified influences with a confessed passion for beat making.
The 14-track album, produced by electric bassist Meshell Ndegeocello, begins with “Tic Toc”, which sounds and feels like a work song, displaying free-flowing saxophone phrasings and vehement words.
This somewhat eloquent ritual tags along with “The Chant”, delivered at a frantic Brazilian rhythm and impeccably adorned with the resolute in/out approach of the bandleader.
Soul and R&B can be found both in “Inevitable” and the Bartok-influenced “Talking Loud”, both featuring Jean Baylor (Yellowjackets, The Baylor Project) on vocals. She also participates in “Alive”, a funky/soul exposure that boasts a graceful horn-driven ostinato as intro.
The power of the baritone saxophone makes us feel perky in the surrounded-by-words “Mantra” while “Sissoko’s Voyage”, resembling an African dance, chains Chris Bruce’s funky guitar rhythms with the circular bass lines of Ndegeocello.
Also funk-oriented, “Mirrors” finds Keyon Harrold’s trumpet solo overlapped by the sound effects of one of the keyboardists, and “Cycle” relies on collaborative sax-trumpet interactions on top of a groovy keyboard-bass-drums texture. The horn players conspire closely once again in “Celestude”, a flexible piece bolstered by uplifted bass licks.
Attentive listeners will find great multi-dimensional musical moments in this colorful neo-soul Afro jazz for the times to come. Expect a myriad of syncopated rhythms varying according to the mood and flow.
Nihil Novi may not be a symbol of perfection but certainly is a singular musical experience.
01 – Tic Toc ► 02 – The Chant ► 11 – Celestude