Every week, we tell you about an album we think you need to spend time with. This week’s album is Brandon Coleman’s Resistance.
The shared history of jazz and funk, though sometimes contentious in its overlap, has yielded a number of genre-straddling classics and noteworthy recordings. In all of his electric finery, Miles Davis and his sizeable ensemble extolled the virtues of the James Brown groove with 1972’s On The Corner, a sharp Afrocentric follow-up to the iconoclastic outings A Tribute To Jack Johnson and Bitches Brew. A year later, band member Herbie Hancock refined the avant-garde leanings of those records into the comparatively tighter Head Hunters, a successful album he’d follow with like-mindedly funky releases such as 1974’s Thrust and 1975’s Man-Child.
Not unlike other fusion forms, jazz fundamentalists often looked down on this generally more commercially viable style and, admittedly in retrospect, they may have had a point. The not infrequent frivolity and regrettable whitewashing that happened with so-called contemporary jazz lacked the inventiveness and ingenuity employed not only by Davis and Hancock but also on the flipside by George Clinton’s intergalactic Parliament-Funkadelic posse. Much of what came under the guise of jazz-funk in the resultant years doesn’t exactly hold up. As artists like Rick James and Prince pushed funk and boogie into the 1980s, many jazz practitioners seemed lost in the sauce.
Nonetheless, a significant number of today’s prominent jazzbos, including Chris Dave and Thundercat, draw obvious sustenance from the still-flavorful two-ingredient genre soup. Respected by hip-hop heads and piano aficionados alike, Robert Glasper brings the funk with his namesake Experiment and, most recently, the scenester supergroup R+R=NOW. The leading light of the West Coast Get Down, tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington demonstrated his devotion on the three-hour long The Epic and continues with this year’s similarly sprawling Heaven And Earth / The Choice. Looking just at this summer alone, Eric Darius’ latest album Breakin’ Thru boasts features from funk legacies Rodney Jones Jr. and Andre Troutman, while drummer Justin Brown dutifully mines for groove with his bandleader debut Nyeusi.
An integral part of Washington’s live crew and one of Flying Lotus’ secret weapons, Brandon Coleman brings all the decades of jazz and funk together for his invigorating new album Resistance. With credits on post-2010 albums by Boney James and Al Jarreau, not to mention those for his Brainfeeder peers and West Coast Get Down affiliated pals like Ronald Bruner Jr. and Miles Mosley, the keyboardist has already proven himself worthy before one note is struck.
Far from the forced rigidity and rigor exalted by jazz purists, Resistance revels in the opposing touchpoints presented in the 1970s by George Duke and the aforementioned Hancock. In practice, it bears less semblance to Head Hunters than the latter’s less-heralded and still relatively underappreciated gem from that decade, Sunlight, an album Coleman cites as impactful. His affinity for disco boogie mirrors that of Dam-Funk and late period Daft Punk, evidenced from the get-go as the vocoder soul intro “Live For Today” sashays in with sweeping majesty and dancefloor sensibility. Employing the help of his Washington bandmates, lead single “Giant Feelings” fuses Coleman’s tastes into something as sumptuous and surreal as what Heaven And Earth wrought, albeit with an underlying Zapp influence.
Throughout the oft-breezy Resistance, Coleman showcases a seemingly carefree pop ease, crooning both with and without a talkbox on the romantic jetsetter flex “All Around The World” before tickling out a Hammond solo for kicks. His personal reliance on vocal manipulation on cuts like “There’s No Turning Back” not only respectfully ties him to the past but presently distinguishes him from clean-singing guests like the Patrice Quinn, another Washington associate. Those bemoaning the seeming removal of jazz from all this funk frontage simply aren’t paying close enough attention, as “Sundae” glistens with organ improv as does closer “Walk Free.”
Now 46 years since On The Corner arrived to derision and dismissal, jazz’s refusal to fully embrace its funky cousin remains, even if that once-steadfast critical establishment view has ceded somewhat with generational shifts. The strident guidance of the great Stanley Crouch on an impressionable young Wynton Marsalis now finds the latter at the helm of one of the genre’s biggest programs, Jazz at Lincoln Center. There, on its luxe grounds, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone from the Brainfeeder family in concert, save maybe for the smallest performance space Dizzy’s on an off night. Glasper’s trio might find a nook there, but beyond a Miles Davis tribute he’s largely been relegated downtown, where conversely the Blue Note just gave him the entire month of October to play with his various configurations.
Now ensconced in tenure, Marsalis endures as one of the few in jazz with the voice and the power to let someone like Coleman in, but opts instead to publically scorn urban forms whenever prompted. Given the rooms and stages that the keyboardist has had the good fortune to play, particularly as part of Washington’s electrifying band, it seems almost absurd that such divisions persist. The telling thing is, as bop reruns and big band revivals keep conservative spaces like the Rose Theater a playground for the elite, it is those adventurous clubs and non-traditional venues where many of today’s young jazz greats are making their noises heard. A funk devotional commanded by a still rising star, Resistance has the potential to bring more heads into one of America’s proudest musical movements. As purists age out and new cats opt in, we move further from the days of shunning someone of the Davis electric band’s caliber for daring to be different.
Born, raised and still living in New York City, Gary Suarez writes about music and culture for a variety of publications. Since 1999, his work has appeared in various outlets including Forbes, High Times, Rolling Stone, Vice and Vulture, among others. In 2020, he founded the independent hip-hop newsletter and podcast, Cabbages.