A guiding force behind the venerated Black Jazz catalog, bassist Henry “The Skipper” Franklin has left an indelible mark as a sideman and leader, having appeared on many of the label’s most recognizable releases, as well as having recorded with Hugh Masekela, Stevie Wonder, Freddie Hubbard, Hampton Hawes, and many other luminaries. His swooping, languid style gave the bass a new emotive range, and has become a point of reference for the several generations that have followed. Now, Franklin joins Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad for the latest release in Jazz Is Dead Series 2, a masterful showcase of Franklin’s range and lasting impact, and a continuation of the maestro’s impeccable legacy.
Album opener “Karibu”, a phrase used to welcome visitors in Swahili, rolls into being with equal parts mystery and gusto. The individual elements coming together and being stirred by Franklin crescendo into fiery saxophone and trumpet solos setting the tone for the rest of the album. The misty cymbals and relaxed walk of “The Griot” lull you into a false sense of calm before breaking into kinetic double time. The track carries on the tradition of greats of Charles Mingus, Ray Brown, and others. “People’s Revolution” may prove to deceive even the most discerning ear; its shambolic atmosphere guided by Franklin’s climbing bass lines could fit in on any coveted Black Jazz or Strata East masterpiece. “Memories Lost” feels like a lucid dream, stranding you somewhere between loneliness and recollection, revisiting thought-to-be-lost friends and feelings. On the other side of the spectrum is “Feedback”, a plugged-in slice of psychedelic Jazz, similar to Chick Corea’s Return to Forever band, with a kaleidoscopic electric guitar solo at the centerpiece of the chaos. Like a fresh cafecito found on any one of Miami’s walk-up markets, “Cafe Negro” is an accessible yet surprising jolt, reminiscent of Mingus’ own forays into Latin Jazz. Similar to the great Yusef Lateef’s own recordings in Nigeria, “African Sun” incorporates distinctly West African rhythms alongside Jazz modalities, a meeting of two cultures ripped apart but in continuous conversation with each other. Album closer “A Song For Sigrid” sends us off on a tranquil river of sound, cascading towards the future, with inert melancholy contrasted by crashing cymbals and wailing saxophone, all guided by Franklin’s bass. As the final note lifts, and the album ends, you come away with a better understanding of Franklin’s ongoing role as not only a preservationist, but as a worldbuilder, embedding new recordings with keys to the past.
JID014 is a triumph of an album that celebrates everything the label champions: community, culture, and the power of the past to build a better future. Here, Younge, Muhammad, and Franklin have created a stunning tribute to some of the most enduring and influential musical traditions from around the world and have reminded listeners of their transformative power.