Soul Basement, a four piece ensemble project formed in 1997 by famed artist/producer, Fabio Puglisi, and co-writer, Jason Nemor Harden, released What We Leave Behind on November 7. This comes with assistance from Jay Nemor’s rich tones, which are the vocal pillar of the whole entire album.
Recorded live in the studio, What We Leave Behind is very much a homage to some of the artists the collective enjoy, the likes of John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Pharoah Sanders and Gil Scott-Heron.
The guys say “I’m Doing Fine”, which opens quite spaced out, vocally speaking, but soulful. Soothing horns over joyful bass underpin a foundation upon which clean vocals detail the beauty of life. Struggling and striving to that mountain top.
Things then grow busier, set against sparse wah-wah guitar, ringing out spacey and atmospheric. Before the closing minute the vocals implore to approach life in such a way as best to just try and get on with it. Horns herald an end amidst those ringing inflections of guitar.
After that’s “Noise Pollution”, a tad more upbeat and forward. To the point. The bass is moody and the drums just groove matter of fact with no frills. Nemor’s favourite vote’s “the one that’s not for sale”. It then climbs, but not in typical soul fashion.
More in the minor sense, the jazz way. Organ weaves its melodic majesty over the foundations, with plenty of speedy flourishes. “What else can we do?/The change is overdue” developing on that political cynicism. Then there’s the strains of “revolution, revolution, revolution”, a vocal refrain, before the track proper kicks in, again.
The evocative “With You” opens with double bass depicting inner city street life and its struggles. It does lift slightly, but still very much melancholy. Comfort in sadness, sort of thing. Shimmering percussion gives an almost dreamy state. Piano and organ complement eachother as what appears to be saxophone cries in the corner.
You’re told “Love Will Find You”, which opens with sedate organ; rim shots on the drum laying a laidback vibe, though the speed quite urgent. Bass punches its groove between those pockets of drum. “You’ve got to be strong/You’ve got the move on” just about encapsulates the feel of the track. There’s a reappearance of the spoken word nuggets of wisdom, so suiting of the genre.
The bass breaks out, however briefly, as strings lend a certain grandness to proceedings. Spoken word comes yet again, emphasising the need to be true to oneself. Saxophone gets almost lyrical, you can picture words in its sensual melody. A foundation of backing vocal fades out the track; along with tinkling organ, dreamy and percussive.
The irrepressible feel of “The Joy Inside” is, understandably, upbeat, but also conveys the minor inconveniences found trying to get by through everyday life. The bass guitar locks in with the vocals, swinging in tandem before the two go their own merry way without getting lost.
Then things are pared back in order to let the saxophone breathe alone, strong and passionate. The closing moments sees it all come together as the vocals go from spoken, sung and everything in between.
Then there’s an “Angel Of Mine”, which’s quite sedate, calm and soothing. Piano, bass and laidback drum punctuate tight yet lazy rhythms. Swinging ponderously, pontificating on all issues of love: “Angel of mine, you hold the key”. Piano breaks out in this one, beautiful and groovy but never showy. You hear the undercurrent of bass climbing between keys with expert swing and rhythm. The line of “I’ll cherish you” closes the track, quite suitably.
“It’s Time” has the feel of bongos transferred from the beach to a street corner. You can hear the almost rising anger of Jay Nemor as he raves about the hypocrisies of government, fighting for your rights and the like. It’s nothing short of a spoken word rap, so cool and calculated in its delivery the anger just about doesn’t come to the surface. Bass and organ dance amidst moody rhythms whilst also serving their primary musical functions.
There’s only looking ahead in “Future Reminiscence”, which opens with pounding bass, again serving its primary rhythmic function. Sedate saxophone mournful without breaking down and crying. The clap of drum accentuates the sparse nature of the track, as Nemor reflects on his life, from his childhood right up to his major turns in the road and forks in the path.
The latter indicating the numerous choices, ones that could change his life irrevocably in totally different ways. Trundling licks of piano act almost as if to snap you out of the reverie of reflection, bringing you to the present and now.
The album’s a strong one, but particular highlights are “Noise Pollution”, “With You”, “Angel Of Mine” and “Future Reminiscence”. The first of this reviewer’s selection appears to swell for joyous climax, before veering in a minor, jazzy fashion. It’s good in that sense, in that it reaches for a new place unexpected, rather than correctly anticipated.
Then “With You” has the appearance of double bass, that sound so incredibly rich, textured and evocative. That inner city life, if alien to the listener, is ushered via shimmering percussion, as if almost part of a dream you could swear you could touch and feel. That sad saxophone, perhaps heralding great sadness that the dream’s over, is both beautiful and mournful.
The cathartic “Angel Of Mine” also seems rooted in floating, sleepy vibes. Piano, in its lead dalliance, gets a bit of a workout, but never showy and supremely functional in its melody. An undercurrent of bass, not too prominent, climbs between the keys with great, understated fashion. The line of “I’ll cherish you” certainly reinforces the sentiment of the track title and its overarching theme, indeed.
Album closer, “Future Reminiscence”, with bass serving its primary rhythmic function, very much reminds one of the ensemble performance, again, not too showy, in “Angel Of Mine”. Even such an expressive instrument as the saxophone never goes over the top, melancholy rather than emotional meltdown. Same goes for the sparse clapping drum, complementing the ponderous lyrics of Nemor.
Soul Basement are incredibly rich in sound in this effort, so much so it can largely be construed as being evocative of everything jazz and what adjoining genres represent. It’s like the soundtrack to urban life, whether that be busy city streets or poverty and other related issues. Soul Basement’s What We Leave Behind can be purchased on iTunes, here.
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Words by Andrew Watson
One of the greatest albums of our time. The one recording at Blue Note Records they’ve missed on.