Jahari Massamba Unit : YHWH Is Love

Jahari Massamba Unit YHWH Is Love review

“We would have called it Spiritual Jazz but [veteran trombonist] Phil Ranelin told us to call it Black Classical Music,” reads a description for Jahari Massamba Unit‘s 2020 debut Pardon My French. Genre labels, including jazz, are often synthesized by critics and journalists, involuntarily branding musicians with a set of terms they feel may not represent them at all. Rahsaan Roland Kirk notably rejected the “jazz” label because it didn’t reflect the wide range of influences found in his music. 

YHWH is Love, the sophomore release from Jahari Massamba Unit checks off a number of boxes for what would generally be considered a jazz album: improvisation, syncopation, and polyrhythms. But it upholds Roland Kirk’s embrace of “black classical music” in the sense that it carries the genre’s traditions and ever-innovative essence (especially that of Alice Coltrane and Don Cherry). The unconventional timing of the drum fills, improvisational grooves, and playing with an instrument’s perceived limits (who would’ve thought to use celebratory bells and whistles as a fitting foreground for a mellow piano?) are all in tune with jazz’s openness to experimentation. 

On this record, hip-hop producers Madlib and Karriem Riggins turn down the frantic spiritualism from their debut in favor of leaning more into fusion and funk—while taking some cues from samba and Spanish bolero along the way. Considering the duo’s background in beatmaking, it’s no surprise that percussion is the LP’s central element. The album plays around with all sorts of patterns, and this is not limited to drum breaks. Every instrument on here either acts like a drum.Each element expands upon the developing flows and patterns without overpowering either.providing a rhythm of its own, and acting as connective tissue linking the rhythm and harmony. Take the slinky bassline and joyous trumpet on “The Clapper’s Cousin”—they both contain enough character to be discernible, all while complimenting the sparse keys and steady, shiny synth in the foreground. 

Madlib and Riggins play around with highlighting understated timbres throughout. I didn’t think it was possible for a tambourine to be a leading instrument, let alone one with as much groove, but man does it steal the show on “Otis’ Tambourine.” Every aspect: the cadence, the attentive crashing cymbal, the dreamy organ interlude, is sharp, focused, and locked into the groove. “Anointed Soul” features the closest thing to a hip-hop beat on this record. Its steady, clinking hi-hats and chill piano chords are the perfect foreground for someone to hop on and start spitting, only for a horn to fill in the space. 

Listening to YHWH is Love is like eavesdropping on a passionate multi-party conversation. Each subject takes turns driving the dialogue; there’s an occasional interjection between new developments, but the interaction flows to match everyone’s energy. That being said, the album somewhat loses steam towards the end. Muted trumpets, loungy tempos, and background chatter from another room convey that the flashy tricks are over and that it’s time to settle down. This isn’t a weakness, necessarily. 

The change of speed comes off more of a natural progression, a counterbalance to an energetic beginning. It’s only a matter of time before Jahari Massamba Unit catches its breath again and delivers another pulsating, complex interplay of rhythmic loops and minimal harmony.  

Label: Law of Rhythm

Year: 2024

Similar Albums:

Jahari Massamba Unit YHWH Is Love review

Jahari Massamba Unit: YHWH Is Love

Note: When you buy something through our affiliate links, Treble receives a commission. All albums we cover are chosen by our editors and contributors.

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Scroll To Top