Album Review: Derrick Hodge – Live Today

The following review first appeared in the August 2013 issue of Eric Nemeyer’s Jazz Inside Magazine

Derrick Hodge

derrick hodge - live today

LIVE TODAY – Blue Note Records B 001847702  The Real; Table Jawn; Message of Hope; Boro March; Live Today; Dances With Ancestors; Anthem in 7; Still The One; Holding Onto You; Solitude; Rubberband; Gritty Folk; Doxology (I Remember)

PERSONNEL: Derrick Hodge, acoustic and electric bass, keyboards, percussion, table beats, synthesizers, lead bass distortion, fretless bass, synth bass, vocals; Common, vocals; Chris Dave, drums, percussion, table beats; James Poyser, keyboards; Travis Sayles, synthesizers, keyboards, Hammond B3 Organ; Jahi Sundance, turntables; Keyon Harrold, trumpets, flugelhorn; Marcus Strickland, tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone; Corey King, trombone; Robert Glasper, keyboards, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes, table beats; Mark Colenburg, drums, percussion, snare drums, quads; Aaron Parks, acoustic piano, Fender Rhodes; Casey Benjamin, vocoder; Alan Hampton, vocals, acoustic guitar; Martha Caplin, violin; Sophia Kessinger, violin; Sarah Adams, viola; Mark Shuman, cello;

By Curtis Davenport

If jazz has a future, then this is it.

Though many of my generation and older may not like to hear that and some will even almost fight to the death to deny it, let’s face facts.  Young cats like Robert Glasper, Marcus Strickland, Derrick Hodge, Keyon Harrold and their contemporaries are playing music today that is influenced as much by hip-hop as it is by bebop; which is not a bad thing.  They didn’t grow up with the Great American Songbook in their ears so why do so many “jazz people” get apoplectic when these young guys play to their influences? Granted, early marriages of jazz and hip-hop were often clumsy and downright awful, but these guys and others have learned from the earlier mistakes and refined these stylistic mergers into something that is new, fresh and respectful of all of their musical influences. And most important, it works. The sound is compelling and exciting.  Hip young people are beginning to listen and even a few “old heads” such as this writer have come around. This is the sound of “Real Jazz” in the 21st Century.

Bassist Derrick Hodge is known mostly for his work as a member of Robert Glasper’s forward-looking group. He was a major contributor to Glasper’s 2012 breakthrough album Black Radio.  However, he has worked across multiple genres over the last decade supporting a wide range of artists from Gretchen Parlato and Mulgrew Miller to rapper Common and gospel singer Marvin Sapp. Live Today is his debut as a leader. Though it is cut from much of the same cloth as Glasper’s album, Hodge doesn’t have as many big name guest stars and he eschews cover versions of familiar pop tunes. What he does have are songs and arrangements that are complex, challenging and fresh.

The direction of this album is announced right away on “The Real”, a busy amalgam of horn blasts, synthesizers, turntable scratches and sampled voices making statements all held together by Hodges powerful bassline. It’s as close as I’ve heard to nailing the essence what those seeking the hip-hop jazz fusion have probably been looking for. Things really kick into high gear a few songs later on the title track. Glasper opens it by sounding a subtle “alarm” with a repeated piano figure. He is then joined by guest star Common, whose tone here summoned memories of the late Gil Scott-Heron in his prime. The track is spare, only Glasper, Hodge and drummer Chris Dave back Common; yet it feels remarkably dense, as Common coolly brings forth rhyme after rhyme. I could easily listen to a whole album of these cats flowing like that. The great vibe continues with the next track “Dances with Ancestors”, which features Harrold’s muted trumpet and Hodge on both acoustic and electric bass, while Aaron Parks on piano and Travis Sayles on the B3 play off of each other as they improvise the background. It’s mysteriously beautiful. “Anthem in 7” allows the leader to come to the forefront and remind us that he is one of the best young bassists around as he riffs over the complex time signature. On “Solitude” Parks and Hodge trade intricate solo statements, backed by a lush string quartet; the presence of Parks and Glasper throughout the album helps Hodge to put all aspects of his musical personality on display. The disc closes with a nice bow to Mr. Hodge’s upbringing in the church, “Doxology (I Remember)”, anyone with a similar background (such as this writer) will feel a smile of homecoming creep over their face as Hodge bows the familiar theme (“Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow…”) followed by Sayles organ. It’s a fitting end to this fine effort.

According to Hodge’s recent statements, he did not enter the studio with intricate parts written out for each musician. The compositions were purposefully left in a basic sketch state so that arrangements would occur organically; thus the title of the album. Miles Davis famously employed a similar strategy over fifty years ago on the sessions that created Kind of Blue. We all know now the influence that that album had on jazz. I’m not saying that Live Today will be as memorable in the long run but it’s certainly bold enough to inspire other young musicians who will follow.

2 Responses to “Album Review: Derrick Hodge – Live Today”

  1. […] Derrick Hodge, who was a major presence on Robert Glasper’s Grammy Winning Black Radio in 2012, has made an even stronger musical statement on his debut as a leader. The big name guest stars are not here but the music is denser and more complex than Black Radio’s. Finally, an artist has nailed it in the search for a hip-hop/jazz hybrid. This is “Real Jazz” for the 21st Century. You can read my full review HERE. […]

  2. […] also released a well received Blue Note album of his own, 2013’s Live Today, (a Best Jazz Albums of 2013 selection) which featured appearances by Glasper, hip hop superstar Common, Marcus Strickland, pianist Aaron […]

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