Jacob Collier releases a new album, entirely recorded with the Metropole Orkest and with guests such as Laura Mvula, Take 6, Hamid El Kasri and Suzie Collier.

Those who have seen Jacob Collier onstage were able to appreciate the young prodigy’s energy and the ease of his playing. At only 24, the British multi-instrumentalist navigates between musical genres, breaking preconceived rhythmic and harmonic patterns. Because we are talking about innovation here, and the young prodigy’s second album is no exception to the rule.

In an inspired TED Talk, Victor Wooten compared learning music to speech development: “You weren’t taught your native language, people just spoke to you. So even as a baby, you’re jamming with professionals.” This is the cornerstone of Jacob’s genius. Born into a family of professional musicians, Jacob himself admits that he probably sang before he could speak. Gary Burton also emphasized this spontaneity in his autobiography: “You don’t think about nouns and verbs and adjectives when you talk to someone. Improvisation works in much the same way. When something triggers the desire to play a melodic phrase, the unconscious mind assembles a musically relevant group of notes – a musical sentence.” With Jacob, this truth is reflected not only in melodic improvisation but also in harmonic creation: he plays music like he breathes.

 

With this awareness, Jacob analyses human behavior through a musical lens. Let’s take rhythm as an example: he considers it as a corollary of speech with cultural properties. West African dialects emphasize the importance of a word in a sentence through the silence that precedes it. This creates spaces that are filled by other speakers’ interjections; this is the foundation of African polyrhythmics. In European languages, it is intonation that accentuates a word. This observation allowed Jacob to distinguish Bill Evans’s, traditional, millimetric playing from that of Keith Jarrett, influenced by the European musicians around him. And these considerations are analyzed in the light of J Dilla’s unquantized beatmaking.

Clearly, the Brit helps himself to a bit of everything and doesn’t bother with constraints, which explains his ambivalent relationship with technology. Autotune and rhythm quantization? Not so much for him, as they both hinder his creativity. But limited by his single voice, he willingly accepts the harmonizer, an electronic device designed by MIT researchers that allows him to harmonize his own voice on stage. Some will view this attitude as arrogance, but it should be seen more as honesty. When Quincy Jones offered to produce Jacob’s first album, Jacob refused answering back with, “Can we just be friends?” The album was entirely produced by him in his room, and judiciously named “In My Room,” won two Grammy Awards that recognized his ingenuity and his abilities as an arranger.


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Watch Jacob Collier Secret Show at Montreux Jazz Festival on Qwest TV


But for his new project, Jacob slightly changed his approach. No less than forty tracks have been chosen for four albums, a saga led by his musical avatar: Djesse. With the lyrics in the first volume generally focused on the discovery of the world, the natural elements, and amorous passion, we feel the need to go out and meet someone. Far from the comfort of Jacob’s room, Djesse ventures outside. Artistically, this desire is reflected in the myriad of collaborators who participate in the project, because the idea is to present music in all its versatility with a different emotional color for each album. The orchestral power of the first volume (accompanied by the Metropole Orkest) should give way to introversion, then electronics, and finally a combination of all these elements in the fourth opus.

“Home Is,” a soaring a capella piece, opens this first volume. “Home” is also this comfortable feeling when the harmony is resolved on the tonic note of the scale. It may not be a coincidence that Djesse is called back home in the lyrics of the eponymous title. But in a fertile musical environment where orchestral overture (“Overture”) leads to gnawa music (“Everlasting Motion”) and the electronic groove of “With the Love in My Heart,” one wonders what Djesse’s musical sanctuary will look like.

The follow-up comes with the next volume, but the album’s two colorful covers, “Every Little Thing She Does is Magic” and “All Night Long,” already remind us that with Jacob, there is no music without malice.


Jacob Collier, Djesse, Vol. 1 (Decca)

Watch Jacob Collier Secret Show at Montreux Jazz Festival on Qwest TV

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