Adrian Younge and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, ‘Jazz Is Dead’ (Linear Labs)
To access Highland Park Recording Studio Linear Labs, you must go through a combined record store and hairdresser’s salon and cross a hall. Behind a heavy, soundproof door you will probably find producer, soundtrack composer and well-dressed businessman Adrian Younge, who oversaw “Jazz Is Dead”, a collection of new music by a track-oriented list of intercontinental experts including Roy Ayers, Marcos Valle, Azymuth, Gary Bartz and Brian Jackson.
Together with his long-time partner Ali Shaheed Muhammad (best known as a member of A Tribe Called Quest), Younge has built his analog recording studio of his dreams. The couple, who record and tour as Midnight Hour, promote and host a regular Jazz Is Dead live event at the Lodge Room, a second-floor club close to the studio that has become one of the central attractions of the lively neighborhood. This symbiotic relationship has helped create “Jazz Is Dead”, which serves as an introduction to a forthcoming series of releases – though it disproves the premise of its title.
Each of the eight tracks on this star compendium has a different legend working with Younge and Muhammad, and many of the pieces gel before and after sets in the Lodge Room. For example, the opening track “Hey Lover” is a new work by the pair in collaboration with Los Angeles jazz-funk composer and vibraphone player Roy Ayers, best known for his Southern California classic, “Everybody Loves the Sunshine.”
The second track, “Distant Mode,” documents the two producers in the studio with saxophonist Gary Bartz, who over a lifetime of jazz has worked with hundreds of experts including Miles Davis, McCoy Tyner, Abbey Lincoln, Eric Dolphy and Art Blakey. Driven by drummer Greg Paul’s crisp snare-and-stick rhythm and Midnight Hour’s synth and bass work, Bartz opposes the jazz-is-dead notion with every saxophone-filtered breath.
During a 2018 visit with Younge and Muhammad at Linear Labs, Younge, best known for his searing score for “Luke Cage”, described their approach to creation as “maintaining compositional and sonic perspectives from yesterday, but pushing it forward with a new design language “The studio itself is a marvel of vintage analog gear, and the sound it generates vibrates with that spirit. Younge actually cites a specific production period, from 1968 to 1973, as a model for the Linear Labs sound.
This wealth is evident all the time, but for sheer intensity check out “Apocalíptico.” The furious uptempo jam extends over nine minutes and is driven by Brazilian jazz-based band Azymuth, who released their 1971 debut album under Younge’s window of excellence. Among the instruments used for the hectic end workout: drums, fuzz guitars, bass, Fender Rhodes piano, monophonic synthesizer, clavinet and what feels like a layer full of drums, shakers and cymbals.
The whole thing, including Marcos Valle’s keyboard-driven “Não Saia Da Praça,” is over in less than 30 minutes, but with each new listen a fling of previously unnoticed ideas goes through the measures. While it is hardly the most crucial cure we need right now, the promise of the upcoming series “Jazz Is Dead” is obvious.