Many great albums pay an unwitting tribute to the magic of enduring musical relationships, and the 20 years that Mark Saltman (bass) and William Knowles (piano) have worked together adds another to that list. Their eight album Native Speaker is out 8th July on Odradek Records.
Meeting as composition students at the University of Massachusetts and sharing an affection for the music of Billy Strayhorn, Horace Silver, Cedar Walton and Charles Mingus, they have spent time together as Artists-in-Residence for the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, won various international songwriting awards and received two grants from the DC Commission of the Arts and Humanities.
With Native Speaker, the Washington-based pair return - alongside Keith Butler Jr. on drums - to celebrate the truly inclusive spirit of the African American artform, inviting listeners from all over the musical spectrum to take part.
“Whether you are a ‘Native Speaker’ of my language or not, you're welcome here. You’re welcome in my country, my land, my music, my clothes, my home, our dreams and in our art. We wouldn’t want it any other way.”
Whilst keeping the spirit and sensibility of classic jazz at its core, the repertoire stretches far outside these walls; their original compositions showcase two experienced composers in fine form, whilst a selection of unexpected pop hits shows just what can be done with a range of musical guests and a finely-tuned set of arranging skills.
Interpretations of David Bowie’s Space Oddity, Sweet Dreams by Eurythmics and Everybody Wants to Rule the World by Tears for Fears are fun and catchy, without losing the depth or detail of the jazz tradition. With the aid of a horn section, the original compositions - each with a story behind them - take the listener from contemporary jazz to slow, soulful blues and back. Saltman’s offerings are worldly, with Dororo (a Japanese animé) sitting alongside Lotus and Frog (the Chinese symbol for renewal) and the wise “The Gentle Art of Compassion."
Knowles’ focus on paying tribute and respect; Nate’s Advice was given over leisurely drinks at a bar, whilst Ruben is about one of Knowles’s most admired Black heroes: his brother. He also contributes the album’s eponymous track - a blues number that presents a philosophical pathway through life’s many ups and downs. In both spirit and sound, their message of inclusion shines through, inviting both the hardened jazz fan and the tentative newbie a friendly welcome.
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