By James Hale | Published June 2018
While it’s not unusual for the influence of American musicians to float east across the Atlantic and take hold in the U.K., Europe and beyond, it’s rare for U.S. artists to sound like they’ve been picking up cues from overseas. Whether conscious or not, the LP-length recorded debut of reed player Sharel Cassity’s Elektra mixes soul, jazz and electronica with an ease that’s more common to London than New York. Interspersing compositions by Alicia Keys and Björk with originals, Cassity explores issues of intersectionality without losing bounce or groove.
Featuring the fluttery vocals of North Carolina native Christie Dashiell on three songs, including Keys’ anthemic “New Day,” Evolve gets its instrumental depth from the presence of first-tier players like Ingrid Jensen, Marcus Printup, Mark Whitfield and Linda May Han Oh. With Jensen, Printup and big band veteran Freddie Hendrix on flugelhorn, Elektra has a wide range of brass voices to supplement Cassity’s reeds.
Miki Hayama’s Fender Rhodes and the surging funk rhythms of songs like “Outlier” provide a retro feel that harkens back to some of the CTI recordings of the ’70s. It’s a fine line between retro and dated, of course, and the assorted electronics on “The Here, The Now” and the distortion on Whitfield’s guitar on “Wishing Star” detract from the organic blends that Cassity achieves between her soprano and the brass trio.
Evolve: Evolve; New Day; All Is Full Of Love; Be The Change Intro; Be The Change; Wishing Star; The Here, The Now; Echoes Of Home; Outlier. (43:36)
Personnel: Sharel Cassity, soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, flute; Ingrid Jensen, Marcus Printup, trumpet; Freddie Hendrix, flugelhorn; Mark Whitfield, guitar; Miki Hayama, Fender Rhodes, piano, synthesizer; Richard Johnson, keyboards; Riza Printup, harp; Linda May Han Oh, bass; Jonathan Barber, Lucianna Padmore, drums; Christie Dashiell, vocals.