God bless Roy Nathanson. At 70, the saxophonist/poet has become the de facto representative of all that oddball jazz can offer via his work as a Lounge Lizard, as a co-founder of the Jazz Passengers, and whatever off-kilter noise his solo endeavors can fit in. This time, Nathanson has hooked up with alternative R&B vocalist, multi-instrumentalist, producer, and Brooklynite Nick Hakim for the intimate angular soul-jazz of Small Things.
Much of this seems to be jazz by virtue of pedigree rather than tone, as Nathanson adopts more of Hakim’s anti-lover-man R&B vibe on tracks such as “Moonman” and the rolling bongo funk of “Cry and Party.” But on the pumped, Fender Rhodes-filled title track, you hear a blissed-out, mumbling Hakim accommodating Nathanson’s glorious skronk and wonk like a man accepting religious scripture. As Nathanson moves from a sharply crinkled solo to a subtone finale (literally breathtaking stuff), Hakim’s multitracked dub-effected vocals and keyboards seem to come unmoored. Fascinating.
Doubly fascinating—and haunting—is “Things to Like and Not Like in America.” Along with the poetry of old gas stations and abandoned homes sung in a baritone deep enough to rival Barry White’s, the track has a chord structure, spaced-out drum slap, and sax squiggle eerily reminiscent of David Bowie’s Blackstar with Donny McCaslin and Mark Guiliana. On “New Guy to Look At,” with Nathanson blowing blue moods from what sounds like blocks away, Hakim drifts and darts intensely. Free soul? Indeed. That perception rings out most clear on the echo-filled “All the Things You Are (Reimagined),” as Hakim’s smoky voice gripes about existential morasses and financial crashes while Nathanson’s smoldering saxophone ripples through Jerome Kern’s exquisite chord changes. “Truth is, things change,” the vocalist intones, and the double-tracked horns grow into a dub epiphany by song’s end.
Listening to these two men remake and remodel jazz, soul, and several other genres at once—all on their own terms—is magical.