Nihil Novi, the title of saxophonist-composer Marcus Strickland’s latest album, translates from Latin as “nothing new.” But rather than being an indictment of the state of jazz music, that phrase, a biblical reference he absorbed as a boy, refers to Strickland’s philosophy on how good music gets produced: by combining pre-existing elements in new and inspired ways.
“A lot of times, we get so caught up trying to create something new out of the blue. I think nothing really manifests itself that way,” Strickland says. “I think most of the things that we consider novel are really just a composite of three very important ingredients, one of the ingredients being somebody had a vision, the second being that person trying to imagine how that vision relates to the world around them. And the third is, of course, execution. As long as people apply that to anything they’re trying to do, they’re not caught up in trying to come up with something absolutely new; they’re trying to come up with something that’s genuine.”
For his new album, his first for Blue Note/Revive Music after releasing several projects through his own label, Strickland had a genuine combination of ideas in place. A fan of the hip-hop production of J Dilla, Madlib and White Lotus, he created beats of his own and used a set of them as the foundation of a new batch of songs. He asked musician Meshell Ndegeocello to produce the sessions, which feature a rotating cast of players including singer Jean Baylor, pianist and fellow Blue Note artist Robert Glasper and trumpeter Keyon Harrold. The results yielded some heavy, live grooves, with ample room left for both blowing and thoughtful commentary on timely issues.