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Dinner Party: Dinner Party

A Dinner Party doesn’t have to be about grand gestures, especially in the case of Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Terrace Martin and 9th Wonder. Rather than a legion of giants joining forces, this Dinner Party is the musical equivalent of four friends coming together for drinks and a little something to eat, as simple as that. But, nothing is quite that simple. Everything sounds so good, a blending of genres and forces, combining the worlds of jazz and hip-hop, they create the kind of brew that is easy on the ears.

This shouldn’t actually be surprising considering the combined resumes of the main participants. The four have worked together in a number of contexts over the years. Pianist Glasper and producer 9th Wonder collaborated on Erykah Badu’s version of “Afro Blue” from Glasper’s Black Radio. Saxophonists Martin and Washington attended high school together, while Martin and Glasper attended the same jazz camp at the age of 16, and Washington, Martin and Glasper worked together on an album as The Pollyseeds back in 2017. So, the chemistry is obvious even before they play a note.

That’s when it hits you! When you really listen to the lyrics and you discover how subversive this music really is. Beyond the beats and brass are lyrics that cut to the core of Black Lives Matter. On “Freeze Tag”, Phoelix sings, “They told me put my hands up behind my head/ I think you got the wrong one/ I’m sick and tired of running/ I been searching where the love went.“ In that moment you discover the connection running through this music all the way back to Billie Holiday, and further back to Duke and Fats and Louie.

According to 9th Wonder, “Freeze Tag” is a song with roots in so many past efforts like “People Make The World Go Round,” a hit for the Stylistics back in the ‘70s. “It feels good but it’s sad, these feel-good-type of songs with these solemn types of messages. We call it pills in the applesauce.” Glasper counters, “I like to call it the aspirin crushed up in the orange juice. That’s what my momma used to give me medicine.”

Finding the right name isn’t the important thing, the music and the message are what make this collection so special. Just as important to the entire project is not the notion of what’s in the mix, rather what’s left out is what makes this session different. There’s so much space it’s almost overwhelming. This is not a cutting session, it’s all about support, supporting the moment, supporting the tune, supporting the message.

Four masters, doing just enough to make the moment without overstuffing the plate, “Sleepless Nights” provides the humidity of a stormy summer day with a sax solo offering the relief that will not be given by the showery weather. Phoelix makes it clear that there will not be a respite from the blaze of heat, “Cloudy days sleepless nights/ I will be tossing until daylight.

Instead of overplaying their hands, Dinner Party find ways to fill the frame without filling up the eardrum. There are levels of sustain added to the vocals of Love You Bad, as if they were echoing into the evening air. Twin saxes work their magic without overstaying their welcome. Swirling saxophones form the center of “First Responders” as well, one of the longer and jazzier tracks on Dinner Party. As lovely as the tune is, it makes your wonder what this disc would have been like if everything had been instrumentally oriented.

There is a sense of weight to “The Mighty Tree” as the bass thuds establish depth, while a lone snare drum propels things forward for the saxes and wordless vocals to establish more forward motion. And just like a dinner guest on their best behavior the entire track is over in just under three minutes, so no one overstays their welcome.

There’s a sense of comfort to Dinner Party that is hard to deny. These four participants have spent hours and hours together, that kind of familiarity means there’s no need for a cutting session, the only goal is making sure that the music succeeds. To that end, they have created a collection of music as comfortable as any you are likely to find, yet the messages of songs like “Freeze Tag” ensure these songs are equal in weight to any of their musical forbears.

Summary
The first effort from the jazz/hip-hop supergroup lives up to the pedigree of its members and exceeds expectations.
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