The catch-all term “Black American Music,” or #BAM, may indeed be the only one that fits drummer Chris Dave and the Drumhedz’ eponymous Blue Note debut. But so might “Universal Language,” the album’s second track and manifesto. “From the Drumhedz as a whole/Through your speakers to your soul/On an intergalactic mission, let it take control,” the (many) singers recite, then list off all the ingredients herein, from jazz to soul to rock to hip-hop. All of those elements permeate the album, but in a way that makes them hard to extricate with any sort of description.
Drumhedz is not really a band, per se; it’s the staggeringly gifted Dave and nearly 50 cohorts, who blend in and step out seemingly at will. Trumpeter Keyon Harrold, keyboardist Pookie Sample and bassist Pino Palladino are among the recurring personnel, but there are few solos, making it difficult to determine who’s who. Among the more distinctive participants is vocalist Anderson .Paak, whose presence has an effect both clarifying and unifying on two very different tracks: the funky, sinuous “Black Hole” and the eerie, sparse “Clear View.” His is one through line of many, however, as both tunes have a hard groove and a dark lyrical outlook. .Paak gives the songs dimension, but the form comes from Dave and company.
In fact, that form comes through when there are no vocalists at all. The warped-but-thumping instrumental “Lady Jane” and the suitably trippy drum-n-bass “Trippy Tipsy” also seem unified, despite being as distinctive as .Paak’s two tracks. Groove, experimentalism and Dave’s omnivorous musicality are the album’s true themes. Scientists, take note: If Chris Dave and the Drumhedz doesn’t represent jazz’s version of the unified field theory, it takes us right to the precipice.