America’s officially off and running into the age of Obama, and with the inclusion of “Barack’s Groove,” a silky and soulful, African rhythm tinged instrumental piece as cool and self assured as the man it pays homage to, saxophonist Walter Beasley becomes the first urban jazz artist to officially honor in song our 44th President and the hope he inspires. Perfect timing too, as his latest Heads Up disc Free Your Mind was released just a week after the Inauguration.
While the tune comes somewhat surprisingly late in the tracking, it’s indicative of Beasley’s goal to create a laid back yet often playful, stress-busting vibe geared towards telling people: let go, cast your burdens to the seductive musical wind. In many ways, the emotional-spiritual inspiration behind the album is the musical equivalent of the balance of that hope amidst the trying circumstances that define us all at this unique time in history. Free Your Mind is the saxman’s attempt to make sense of recent emotionally charged events—some global, others more personal—that have changed his perspective on his own life in particular and the human experience in general.
That’s heavy stuff for what could easily be experienced as simply one of the best in the pocket urban jazz outings of the young year, but the 11-track collection is still a compelling, often urgently poignant listen. The set is anchored by five irresistible tracks penned, produced and performed on by Beasley’s labelmate James K. Lloyd of Pieces of a Dream, including the whimsical, easy shuffling “Oh Yeah,” the coolly jangling, soaring cool of “Shirlitta” and the sensual, dreamy title track that truly relaxes the spirit if you let it!
Obama’s not the only man on the saxman’s heart. In a dynamic break from the overall urban pop-jazz flow, Beasley pays homage to late trumpet great Mark Ledford on the gently free flowing and introspective “Message To Mark,” which features a wistful trumpet solo by Derek Cannon. The polyrhythmic, Brazilian flavored “DukeZillia,” which features Beasley doubling on sax and “vocalese,” captures keyboard great George Duke’s blend of global aesthetic with jazzy R&B. The graceful closer “Miss Minnie” is the saxman’s heartfelt soprano led tribute to his aunt Minnie Dangerfield, an important influence in his life while he was growing up in California.
Not surprisingly considering the heartfelt sentiment he poured into it, Beasley calls the making of Free Your Mind a true learning experience, not just musically but also emotionally and spiriturally. It’s a great listening experience, but for those who dig a little deeper, also a musical reminder to appreciate the good things in life while figuring out ways to challenge the difficult ones.