Jazz has always had a soft spot for pop music. Icons like trumpeter Louis Armstrong blessed the masses with his positivity and raspy voice in 1967's "What a Wonderful World" and saxophonist John Coltrane transformed Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1960 musical smash "My Favorite Things" into a swinging affair. Fast forward to 2014 as singer, songwriter and producer Jose James continues the practice with a fine rendition of 1972's "Simply Beautiful" by the one-time prince of R&B, vocalist Al Green.
The 1988 edition of The Jazz Messengers, which drummer Art Blakey had been leading for 33 years, showed a great deal of promise. Comprised of trumpeter Philip Harper (soon to form The Harper Brothers), trombonist Robin Eubanks, the tenor of Javon Jackson, pianist Benny Green and bassist Peter Washington, this band (whose average age without counting Blakey was around 25) performs one original apiece by Green and Jackson along with five older songs on this enjoyable release. The music may not have contained too many surprises or been startlingly new, but the results are quite pleasing.
After the unqualified critical, chart, sales, and Grammy successes of the Robert Glasper Experiment's two Black Radio albums, remixes, and singles, the need to explore was requisite. ArtScience is a reflection of the qualities and musical interests that brought this band together. Their seamless meld of contemporary jazz, hip-hop, neo-soul, pop, and rock has influenced a host of artists following in their wake. This album marks a new modus operandi: it's the first time the band has written and produced collectively. (Even the two covers here were arranged by the unit.) It's also a first in that there are no guest vocal cameos. The set was recorded in New Orleans over two weeks apart from the endless touring and hustling solo careers of its members.