It is a truth – universally acknowledged – that you look to Detroit if you’re searching for the deep-beating soul of America: and Malik Alston comes steeped in the great traditions of that iconic city. So it is that Malik`s Air – six long lost tracks refuelled and revitalised for the now – comes complete with the whole shebang: jazz, funk, soul and house, they all collide and collude as the dance-floor beckons. This is music with a whole lot of heart that’s aimed squarely at the feet: resistance is futile to grooves this sculpted, this powerful, this all-encompassing.
The title track sets the scene: easy-going, Rhodes-led, plenty of horn licks stirred into the pot – vocals spiced and spliced in – the resulting brew being a timeless slice of underground soul music that will be getting plenty of airplay I’m sure from the crossover DJs. You can envisage Gilles P. or Patrick Forge being on it like a sonnet, have no doubt.
Butterfly is just as sweet: jazzed-out bass runs lay down the bedrock for some Cal Tjader-esque guitar theatrics, intertwining with the horns and some sterling keys – never losing sight of the groove. On it rolls and rolls: if you have a floor to be filled then look no further. Scintillating stuff.
Almost On The One completes a trio of jazz powered work-outs: again a bedrock of bass lets the piano chords riff freely over the top, the bottom end locked in, vocals soulfully scatting in and out, mimicking horn lines, bringing the jay ay zee zee for sure, but still keeping the groove and the feel. Great work and another for the jazz dancers: floor-fillers all three.
The remainder of the album moves into deeper dancefloor territory, the 4/4 coming down hard above the floaty keys and synth runs, the vocals edging out into classic soulful house mode. Where Do We Go kicks off this section: a wigged-out jazz-house odyssey. Conscious lyrics, scatted vocal licks thrown in for good measure: dancefloor roller alert.
Linwood toughens things up a tad: a spikier kick drum driving along flute and horn licks, recalling a classic Blaze joint from the noughties: ‘it’s the groove’ repeats the vocal and that is indeed what it is: focused and free-flowing simultaneously: think Ron Trent cosying up to Chez Damier and you’re almost there.
Rise Up (Savannah) rounds things off in spiritual mode: female vocals radiating peace and positivity: ‘lift up your head / rise above it / receive the knowledge that you have within’. Bang into a Body & Soul vibe: this would not have been out of place being dropped by FK or Joe Clausell all those years ago.
Six tracks in total then: and a great introduction to the work of one of Detroit’s finest underground producers. Looking back to move things forward, Air is a valuable document of what’s been cooking in the Motor City’s highways and byways: expect to hear much more from Malik Alston and crew. Jazz meets house meets soul meets funk: it’s all here and it’s all good.
Malik Alston Presents Painted Pictures: Air is released on November 19th, care of Sydney’s Jazz Diaries.