The married duo of vocalist Jean Baylor and drummer Marcus Baylor are a little too young to have hosted jazz parties in the ’60s, but their records highlight the spirit, vibe, and substance of that milieu. Their latest recording, Generations, captures the brassy swagger and cool vocals of music that overlapped the jazz, gospel, and rhythm & blues borders 50 or so years ago; it’s easy to hear inspirations like Lou Rawls, Esther Phillips, and Roberta Flack in their style. The new album builds on the success of their Grammy-nominated 2017 debut The Journey, and it cements their role as trendsetters. In the four years since that recording, the sound they helped revive has found advocates in the work of Jazzmeia Horn, Kandace Springs, and Veronica Swift.
Generations features a lot of party people. Saxophonist Kenny Garrett takes a star turn amid the danceable grooves of “Strivin’.” Horn and Dianne Reeves drop by to turn “We Swing” into a compelling scat-singing summit. Pianist Sullivan Fortner guides “Do You Remember This?,” a hard-bopping piece with some choice Monk quotes at the finish. Drummer and vocalist Jamison Ross contributes to “Only Believe,” a smoldering ballad. She doesn’t make a physical appearance, but “Becoming” is inspired by the biography of First Lady Michelle Obama. Another affecting ballad is their take on Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.”
Just as the album effortlessly integrates guests and inspirations into the fold, the music flows freely between tempos and genres. There are plenty of ways to make an academic presentation about the core similarities of African-American musical styles, but Marcus and Jean Baylor have found a fun and captivating approach. Now if only a Sidney Poitier classic were to follow.