Kassa Overall’s Debut Defies Playlist Culture

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Kassa Overall’s leader debut is titled Go Get Ice Cream And Listen To Jazz.

(Photo: Steven Sussman)

In a small Paris hotel room, Kassa Overall lies across an unmade bed, praying for a sign. For months, he’d been sitting on an album’s worth of new music, passively finding reasons not to go into production. The next day, Roy Hargrove passed away.

“It was like a slap in the back of my head,” Overall said. “I was like, ‘What are you doing? People are out here dying, and you’re trying to decide whether to put this music out?’”

Hargrove’s passing in November sparked motivation, and Overall immediately began tracking Go Get Ice Cream And Listen To Jazz—the drummer’s first full-length release as a leader—while grappling with the challenges that led him to put off going into production for so long.

Months earlier, the shy artist-composer and producer reached out to a label with several tracks of what would become Go Get Ice Cream and a few of his older tunes. In the email message, he mentioned his multiplicity of creative roles: drummer, rapper, DJ, beat maker. A rep soon responded.

“She gave it the old labeling college try and said, ‘It’s a producer album,’” said Overall, reflecting on the brief exchange. “I wasn’t even offended, because she was right. That is what I do. At the same time, it was like—if you take out everything special about something, what’s left over is: ‘It’s a producer album.’”

The reality of Go Get Ice Cream’s release is staggering. Overall worked through sketches and loops, calling on different artists for each composition—and compositional layering. Certain tracks underwent multiple studio session cycles. And the resulting release is an album that begs active listening from start to finish, in stark contrast with the current playlist climate perpetuated by streaming services and social media.

“My favorite albums are like that,” he said. “Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Burnin’, A Love Supreme, Doggystyle—they all have this kind of movie quality to them. If I’m going to make a body of work, then let’s make all these joints fit together and feel like a journey. Jazz is a refuge in the industry. It’s not always seeking the trend. So, if the mainstream thing is about the singles and playlist, then the full-length concept seeks refuge in jazz. It sounds like I’m saying jazz is this leftovers place, but I’m trying to say its main objective isn’t to fit in with mainstream needs.”

Featuring established and emerging artists including Arto Lindsay, Sullivan Fortner, Judi Jackson, Mike King and Hargrove himself, Go Get Ice Cream challenges the perceived relevance of trends, genres and labels, and collaborators took notice. Fellow artist-composer and producer—and longtime confidant—Theo Croker, who appears on “Do You,” has been working alongside Overall for the past 15 years.

“[The album] really shows the culmination of everything Kassa has been cultivating [since] I’ve known him,” the trumpeter said. “Instead of being an artist that haphazardly puts out pieces, he gives you a whole picture, which really reflects where he is musically and spiritually in life: He’s a complete man. It takes a confident artist and grown person in this industry to put out a statement of who they are, fully, and not something that fits into some type of category.”

Mentor and collaborator Terri Lyne Carrington offered Overall tips and notes along the way to Go Get Ice Cream’s production and release. “Kassa represents the next generation of people successfully doing what I’ve always tried to advocate for: knowing the tradition while pushing toward new territory, genre bending and having the courage to express your artistic truth,” the drummer said. “I’d love Kassa if he were only a drummer, but he is an artist with depth and understanding of what is happening in our society and culture.”

Asked for an assessment of the entire creative process, Overall paused, then responded: “There are no rules, but hard work pays off. Work hard, and do whatever you want. Go get ice cream and listen to jazz.” DB




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