Attempts to bring rap into the jazz fold often result in frustration. The efforts can easily feel contrived, and they wind up disappointing both jazz fans and hip-hop fans. But when Chason Walker starts rapping the words to “Ancients Speak,” you think, Yes, yes! This is what it should sound like!
Maybe that’s because Gibbs’ group, Elevated Entity, throws everything into the pot: African, Brazilian and Cuban music, hip-hop techniques and jazz-inflected musicianship. This is all-inclusive world jazz with a wide-open-door policy. A tune like “Sometimes” contains so many different ideas layered upon one another that it is all but impossible to discern where they all come from. Chanting? Check. Afro-Cuban rhythms? Check. Electric guitar shredding? Check.
Gibbs is a phenomenal bassist, but Elevated Entity is not his show; it’s everyone’s. And though there are some big names on this record—keyboard players John Medeski and Craig Taborn, guitarists Pete Cosey and Vernon Reid, saxophonist Ron Blake and trumpeter Graham Haynes—they are mere ingredients in the stew. The closest anyone comes to getting his own spotlight comes in places like the call-and-response exchange between electric piano and horns on “Mojuba” or the brief guitar solo on “Canto Por Odudua.” In describing his music, Gibbs talks about the idea of a “Black Atlantic,” the legacy of descendents of Africans brought against their will to the Americas. That may be the theory behind this music, but just as important is its practical application, and here’s one: When the Brazilian percussion, African sonorities, funk, chanting and rapping spills out of the speakers on “Macumba,” it forces you to get up and dance.