Contemporary Jazz

VOICES Notes and news on Contemporary Jazz releases

Beasley Honors Many

23 FEB 09 JONATHAN WIDRAN

With the inclusion of "Barack's Groove," a silky, African rhythm-tinged instrumental piece as cool and self assured as the man it pays homage to, on his latest Heads Up project Free Your Mind, saxophonist Walter Beasley became the first urban jazz artist to officially honor in song our 44th president and the hope he inspires.

Perfect timing too, as the album came out just a week after the Inauguration. While the tune comes somewhat surprisingly late in the tracking, it's indicative of Beasley's goal to create a laid back yet often playful, stress-busting vibe geared towards telling people to let go and cast your burdens to the seductive musical wind.

Easier said than done, maybe, but the 11-track collection -- anchored by five irresistible tracks penned, produced and performed on by Beasley's labelmate James K. Lloyd of Pieces of a Dream -- is still a compelling, often emotional listen. Obama's not the only man on the saxman's heart. In a dynamic break from the overall urban pop-jazz flow, Beasley pays homage to late trumpet great Mark Ledford on the gently free flowing and introspective "Message To Mark," which features a wistful trumpet solo by Derek Cannon.

The polyrhythmic, Brazilian flavored "DukeZillia," which features Beasley doubling on sax and "vocalese," captures keyboard great George Duke's blend of global aesthetic with jazzy R&B. The graceful closer "Miss Minnie" is the saxman's heartfelt soprano led tribute to his aunt Minnie Dangerfield, an important influence in his life while he was growing up in California.