His album appeared to us by pure serendipity; a happy discovery of a promising future. Ernest Melton has previously released two other albums that he has since discarded, presenting The Time of the Slave Is Over as the real beginning.
His album appeared to us by pure serendipity – a happy discovery of a promising future. Ernest Melton has previously released two other albums that he has since discarded, presenting The Time of the Slave Is Over as the real beginning. Before, he had been in a hurry to arrive on the scene, gripped by a desire to record. But this project gave him enough reason to consciously raise his game.
The saxophonist defines reaching these new heights by succeeding in recording something he “would not have been able to do before.” His subsequent smile displays the youth of a twenty-two-year-old musician with a burning desire to experience everything: pleasure is found in the act of playing. By choosing a sax/bass/drums trio formula, Melton has drawn up a vast expressive space to exploit. This arrangement marks a proper challenge for instrumentalists who want to test themselves.
In this exercise, the Kansas City musician has emphasized character over the expression of tradition, diverting the risk of boredom through an energetic tenor saxophone possessed of the need for movement and variety. A case in point is the bass line on “Spacewalk,” where Melton holds the listener in suspense for 7 minutes, renewing with rhythm and teasing out ideas. It is his way to blow stories into our ears.
The Time of the Slave Is Over comes at a time where Melton is ready to stand out beyond the local scene. When conceiving of the album, the saxophonist knew this was what he had to do: “I wrote the music specifically for the trio. But trio music can be a bit repetitive. This album was, above all, a question of the players. I wanted to release something that would give people the chance to listen to my playing. It was a big test for me as a soloist.”
Attracted by challenge and improvisation, Melton wants to comprehend and perform what few others are able to do: “I like people that are hard to imitate! I want to figure out how they do what they do, to put it into what I do. I was mostly influenced by John Coltrane’s later music, Pharoah Sanders, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Michael Brecker and Wayne Shorter.”
From this legacy, Melton has grasped that beyond being unparalleled, these artists were inimitable; that their unique voices were built between the notes, in the supplemental soul. Here, and on the flamboyant “Free Soul,” the energy that the trio deploys in the melodic bass line recalls a certain Shabaka Hutchings and indicates that the transatlantic currents of influence can also run from Europe to the U.S. when it comes to jazz.
It is also an indicator of the size of the English saxophonist on the American continent: “He is one of the guys whose style I love! His way of playing is so rhythmic and its a rare skill.” We can see this in the choice of instrumentation, where the electric bass is preferred to the acoustic, that the groove – the essential funk of the excellent “PBS” – and the consequential desire to dance occupied a privileged place in the musician’s minds.
In addition to Shabaka, Melton’s music reflects the ardour of the English scene in recent years: Theon Cross’ trio of tuba/sax/drums (who will release an album on February 8), the live performances put out by the Ezra Collective … But the boom in London is different to the scene in Kansas City, which Melton already seems to have sewn up.
After leaving school at the age of sixteen to devote himself to music, the saxophonist later decide he couldn’t go further at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston, preferring to play as much as possible and to continue the considerable development he had undergone in Kansas City.
He comes from Missouri, he was raised in the land of gospel and his soul was formed by the blues. But the self-taught musician has managed to cultivate an international curiosity, while allowing his ears to remain attentive to music from the four corners of the world: “when you listen to world music, then you start to hear everything else. The rhythms Shabaka Hutching uses come from world music. It’s jazz, but the rhythms are from another culture. In my attempt to understand as much as I possibly can, listening to older indigenous music broadens my listening. Nothing teaches me more than that stuff.”
Ernest Melton, The Time of The Slave is Over
Picture by M. Brownlee