In the parallel dimension of contemporary jazz, he hasn’t experienced the same kind of breakout stardom, though he has been creating new packages for funk and fusion gifts that otherwise might sound rote or expected.
The saxophonist makes it easy to spot his influences—including vocoder hooks styled after Zapp & Roger party anthems, or keyboards that specialize in G-funk timbres. But Martin can also mix those tones with warmly synthesized strings, or sizzling rock accents.
Jazz is always experiencing booms and busts, but the crossover sphere feels uncommonly lively right now. Which doesn’t mean good, necessarily. Often when you mix jazz, hip-hop, soul, and R&B, those strong flavors cancel each other out, and instead of gumbo, you’ve got cream-of-wheat. So we need the crossover masters to show us how it’s done—and few are more revered than multi-instrumentalist Terrace Martin, pianist Robert Glasper, producer 9th Wonder, and saxophonist Kamasi Washington.
All four artists arrive hot in the new decade. Martin has produced greats from Travis Scott to Snoop Dogg. Glasper’s 2012 album Black Radio is a paragon of the style, and last year he dropped Fuck Yo Feelings, a guest-stuffed mixtape with a raucous kickback vibe. Also in 2019, 9th Wonder released The Iliad Is Dead and the Odyssey Is Over with Murs and the Soul Council. Washington is one of the most boundary-pushing musicians of the 21st century. And here they are together for Dinner Party, a collaborative EP that’s … safe, polite, and pleasant.
Given its makers, this is alarming. The EP’s ingredients—saxophone trills, R&B choruses, cut-up 4/4 beats—are presented tidily as if on a plate: a starch, a green, a protein. Opener “Sleepless Nights,” which features Phoelix on vocals, is sticky and memorable, but “Love You Bad” and “From My Heart and My Soul”—which repeatedly dig into a single lyric to almost the same BPM rate—kill the momentum.
Things pick up with “Freeze Tag,” a reflection on police violence that recalls the Impressions’ “People Get Ready.” It hints at how substantial their next release could be. Dinner Party’s press bio calls it the product of “years of friendship, shows, dinners, conversations, laughs and life experiences.” But easy rapport between friends doesn’t always translate to the average listener, which makes Dinner Party less a meeting of minds than a soundtrack to a literal dinner party.