sat 15/06/2024

Album: Yussef Dayes - Black Classical Music | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Yussef Dayes - Black Classical Music

Album: Yussef Dayes - Black Classical Music

Top drummer and band deliver a sprawling album

Yussef Dayes brings a particular kind of collaborative energy to the band he leads. It is special, even life-giving. In this type of music, where jazz meets beats and EDM, it does tend to be the drummer who provides all the restless energy anyway, but it is the fact that he is able to do so completely on his own terms which makes it so refreshing. 

Yes, there are other, similar examples of great drummer/producers around: Makaya McCraven – who has grabbed the moniker "beat scientist" and generally has more hype around him – does not dissimilar things. And with more of a foot in jazz, Nate Smith is quite exceptional too, but Yussef Dayes is, to say the least, up there with both of these US artists in terms of creativity, power and invention.

Dayes has pursued the development of his craft of drumming with astonishing perseverance and single-mindedness ever since he was a small child, and taken his journeys of discovery in many different directions. From absorbing the touch and rhythmic individuality of Idris Muhammad, to in-depth work with konnakol rhythms and the Senegalese tradition, to a deep study of Milford Graves and freedom and heartbeat, it’s all there and audible in the vibrancy and range of his playing.

Last year his regular band, the Yussef Dayes Experience, produced a tight, live, five-track EP called “The Yussef Dayes Experience Live at Joshua Tree” (Soulection). By contrast, the new album “Black Classical Music” (Brownswood / Warner Music/ Cashmere Thoughts Recordings/ Nonesuch Records in the US), with its 19 extremely varied tracks, is a kind of autobiographical sprawl. It is as if Dayes has wanted to include everything and everyone that gives him his sense of connection and rootedness...and then accept that random walk principles are applied to the ordering of it. 

So, we find voice recordings of his young daughter and even the sound of his late mother, the respected Iyengar yoga teacher Barbara Hicks, in which she explains ways to deal with back pain. And there are guest appearances from Shabaka Hutchings, Theon Cross, the strings of the Chineke Orchestra, Tom Misch, and loads more.

Track by track, there is a lot there. And Dayes has an excellent core band. He has often said that he tends to want to work with players who match his energy and are lifted by it. And that is what one can feel on both last year’s EP and this year’s album.

This is particularly the case with a couple of the singles which were released ahead of the album, and which feature the piano and keyboards of Charlie Stacey: “Tioga Pass”, and the opening/ title track. These show contrasting sides of Stacey’s fine, energised and inventive playing. In both his quasi-vocal synth playing on “Tioga Pass” and his powerful, lively piano work on the opening title track “Black Classical Music”, he complements Dayes’ energy and strong sense of forward motion. Another important player and long-term associate is the fine bassist Rocco Paladino, who unfailingly delivers quality and energy.

When I think of some recent concert experiences I have had where “name” keyboard players leading bands in this kind of music have taken the soft option of coasting, letting their drummers do ALL the work, looking underwhelmed and bored I find I cannot understate how what Dayes is doing as leader is so powerful.

Conclusion: does “Black Classical Music” work or cohere in any sense as an album? Er, no. For that you need “The Yussef Dayes Experience Live at Joshua Tree”. Does the new album give all kinds of windows into what Yussef Dayes’ musicianship and sheer class and quality – and the spirit of his fine core band – are all about? Yes, definitely, but on this convoluted and over-long album you need to go and find them for yourself.

Perhaps the best manifestation will be live: The Yussef Dayes Experience has UK dates in October and has already sold out the Royal Albert Hall. They will then set off on an end-of-year tour of the US with more than 20 dates.

We find voice recordings of his young daughter and even the sound of his late mother


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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