Jesse Fischer & Soul Cycle’s last release, Homebrew (2011), was a hot mess of funk, groove, jazz, and soul. The record grabbed my ears by way of its guest appearances: Stefon Harris, Gretchen Parlato, and Sean Jones. Great performers aside, Fischer’s writing on Homebrew was top-notch, and looking back, Soul Cycle’s debut with Mosaic in 2009 is equally stanky. The group’s new record, Retro Future (ObliqSound 2012), is officially out today on iTunes and other online markets. It’s stirring up quite a buzz on The Revivalist, JazzTimes, Soul Tracks, Soul and Jazz Podcast, and Kevinnottingham.com. Rightfully so, Retro Future delivers in all respects of the groove: sophisticated funk, stellar solos, and head bumpin’ hooks.
I love how Fischer manipulates and envelops odd rhythmic groupings or complex meters within sensual textures on such tunes as “Gotham Underground,” “Moon Ship,” and “Cyberphunk.” On “Gothan Underground,” I applaud percussionist Shawn Banks. Check out how he fits in the cross hairs on woodblock/cabasa, enhancing a momentous pulse beneath a swaying chromatic horn melody. Alto saxophonist and Atlanta-based Brian Hogans takes an exhilarating solo, reminding me of Cannonball Adderley or Kenny Garrett, building with weaving, streamline harmonic language. This cut is perfect for those long, late MTA nights…
Fischer situated himself within his spaceship (piano, keyboards, latptop, AKAI trigger pad) to lead Soul Cycle at a CD release party at BAM Café this past Saturday, October 27, 2012. Soul Cycle: Fischer, keys; Jean Caze, trumpet/flugelhorn; David Linaburg, guitar; Solmon Dorsey, bass; Adam Jackson, drums; Shawn Banks, percussion.
The BAM Café is not your typical East Village café; it’s a venue on the second floor of the glorious BAM complex in Downtown Brooklyn. The large arched corners give the illusion of a massive tunnel. The bandstand isn’t elevated but rather a wide area between opposing bathrooms, which wasn’t too awkward. The live mix was surprisingly balanced given the depth of the room and height of the ceiling. Kudos to the sound-man, and to DJ Idlemind for spinning consistently funky, frequently sampled breaks before the band began.
The band opened their set like the record, with “Tanqueray & Tonic.” Fischer took the first solo on electric keys followed by Caze on trumpet. Next was “Moon Ship.” Fischer took an nice unaccompanied piano intro, quoting the main melody within jagged rubato rhythms. Drummer Gabiel Wallace wore headphones as to sync with a sample, triggered by Fischer. This is not easy for a live band to accomplish while remaining flexible enough to improvise. One way that the band manages to not fall off course is their use of doubling: Linaburg often doubles Dorsey’s bass line, and the guitarist often lays out during Fischer solos in lieu of comping too much. The guitarist took a really nice solo on West African, pentatonic based “Digital Savanna” where he used a staccato, muted picking technique as to emulate a kora. Other highlights included Caze’s solo on “Cyberphunk” atop pulsating reggaeton infused by Bank’s shekere. Fischer invited guest vocalist Rachel Eckroth on stage for two numbers: “Aquarius” (from the musical Hair) which appears on Retro Future, and later in the set with a rendition of the often-sampled George Duke number “Someday.”
Fischer (born in 1980) is among a generation of musicians who grew up in the age of hip-hop. These players (Glasper, the Snarky Puppy crew, Hargrove, Esperanza, etc.) with their open-minded, sponge-like musical outlook, have already begun to influence an entire “jazz” generation. Future leaders of this music have spent time with the jazz tradition (in the ivory towers or/and on the bandstand) as much as soul, gospel, r&b, groove, etc. The term “Retro Future” says it all: soul is nothing new, it’s organic and flowing, timeless and universal. But what Fischer is getting at, is an increase in mankind’s rigid routines, and how this mindset parallels the continuing popularity of computer music. How can human musicians transfer this concept into sonic textures? Jazz musicians like of Herbie Hancock, George Duke, and Roy Ayers have always been tackling this question since its inception. Jesse Fischer & Soul Cycle come from the same soulful, forward-thinking trajectory…and in the format of the groove, under the multicolored lighting of venues like BAM Café, patrons will undoubtedly continue to nod, smile, bounce, and applaud.
To learn more about Fischer, visit his DL Media Music bio, and note that he’ll be back in Brooklyn on December 12 at Littlefield. Here’s a newly released video of Soul Cycle live at Rockwood Music Hall on October 1, 2012.