As the Blue Note test productions of the cover art indicate, Karriem Riggins has an affinity for the early jazz composers- -writers who, like him, are true to their artistic jazz roots. Under such auspices it’s hard to resist the sound on this compilation of album samples that fuse elements of straight ahead hip-hop and melodic reverberations of proto jazz–not the kind of bandstand jazz your grandparents listened nor the solipsistic hard bop that followed. But the inverted freeform of the jazz revolution that started in the kitchen of Miles Davis on Bitches Brew.
What makes an album stand on its own are various components of artistic vision style and substance but even more crucial than these qualities is the one thing that every album must have–coherence. That coherence can take many forms. For example I recall the first release of an album by Blood Sweat and Tears that by all accounts could be seen as a hodge-podge, covering a multitude of different styles within one album and the result was maybe two or three tracks that were Billboard-ready (“You Make Me So Very Happy” in this case.) In contrast we take an album like The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, an album that sticks to the rudiments of hip-hop and reggae and includes a Frankie Valli cover of “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You.” Yet both albums contain a constant within the variation that helps the overall center of the album hold and maintain a recognizable artistic shape.
Riggins, by comparison, greets us with a new age version of this coherence. Instead of a potpourri of musical variation, we get audio sound clips streamed from various sources- hip-hop tracks, grown men talking about life, old Disney soundbites–and musically we get hip-hop infused with jazz grooves ladled over the melodic like a good gravy. Something about the unrushed approach to sequencing seem to suggest the old-school notions of the mixtape, trunk samples sold from cars in basketball court parking lots or traded in high school and college hallways; when we still recorded from radio boomboxes with Maxell tapes, before the internet and something called a cd player. Other parts are homage to the early Nintendo and Atari generation, with computerized sound that is nowhere near funk strains of Roger and Zapp. The music Karriem Riggins brings to Alone is a recreation of all of these things, a musical keepsake of the things music afficionados of the late-twentieth century can recall with warm feelings. He creates an environment for our memory- “Africa” for example mixes elemental hip-hop beats oscillating through a jazz melody that repeats and opens with a beat that could be found in any drum circle on Venice Beach. “Forward Motion” on the other hand, gives us samples of the whiskey stained polyester years of our parents, when music meant the trumpets of soul and groove and the full-bodied wall of sound made indelible by Phil Spector.
Where Riggins really shines through is in the homemade jazz creations he places in small corners of the album, just enough to accent the places where the rhythm and pacing could begin to become pedestrian. Overall the musical efficiency in Riggins’ use of jazz and hip-hop elements, the clever use of sound bites make the album an eclectic and delicious treat for the senses. And, like anything worth keeping, coherent.