Roy Ayers is a legend of 1970s American soul. His signature tune is ‘Everybody Loves the Sunshine’.
My personal experience of Roy Ayers’ work came through the play he got on Giles Peterson’s WorldWide radio show, which I listened to at the turn of the century. I’d not heard mention of Roy Ayers since I stopped listening to Peterson. Off my radar for so long I’d assumed Ayers had passed away. It was thus a nice surprise to know the musician is still around and has been involved in the making of a new album, a fusion of jazz and soul.
The reverence that Gilles Peterson had for Roy Ayers meant I was intrigued by Ayers’ new project. Ayers’ album is the product of a three way project with Adrian Younge – a composer – and Ali Shaheed Muhammad (A Tribe Called Quest).
Ayer’s new album is called Jazz Is Dead 2. As the name suggests the album is part of a series. The Jazz is Dead series is being put together by Ayers’ collaborators, Younge and Muhammad. The latter are working with ‘revered’ musicians to create ‘fresh tracks’ using recording equipment from the ’60s and ’70s. They’re operating with a pretty broad definition of jazz it seems. The album they’ve recorded with Roy Ayers is more soul, albeit with jazzy bits.
Jazz is Dead 2 is very much an addition to the laid back sound that Ayers stamped in the 70s. However this album does not seek to foreground Roy Ayers’ voice, in fact its not clear that he sings at all. If there is anything twenty-first century about the music then its the arrhythmic drum patterns. Whilst the pace of the music can quicken, the tenderness of the music retains; the sounds are always organic. The album is a chocolate box of instrumental solos and vocals; added as subtle flavours rather than placed front of stage. Its not a set of songs that you’ll sing back to yourself. Instead this album is about energy, a slow sensual energy that meanders like a small jungle river. Its something to make love or write to. More for late nights than mid-mornings. The length and number of the tracks are Goldilocks perfection. Its about quality over quantity.
Roy Ayers ‘Jazz is Dead’ 002 is released digitally on June 19th 2020 and physically at the end of July.
Postscript: After having listened to the album I’ve been left wondering about how the three artists came together and then worked together. It’d be interesting to get a sense of how Roy Ayers was involved in this project, did he lead and write or simply add a few bells and drums? I’m not sure candid and self-reflective critical discussions about working musical partnerships so soon after the release of an album are possible, but answers to these questions could provide the focus of a nice little YouTube vid.
I’d also be interested in knowing about the ‘Jazz is Dead’ moniker. Are the protagonists Younge and Muhammad suggesting that jazz needs resuscitating?