By Ammar Kalia | Published March 2020
Jazz and hip-hop recently have further intertwined, with jazz acts like Makaya McCraven and Mark de Clive-Lowe sampling their own live performances before reprocessing the results. This jazz plays the studio as much as the instrument. And this is where drummer and producer Kassa Overall excels.
Honing his talents while playing for the likes of Vijay Iyer and Christian McBride, Overall always has brought hip-hop’s flavor to his playing. And with his debut—2019’s Go Get Ice Cream And Listen To Jazz—Overall playfully melded synthwork with polyrhythm and horn-laden melody. On his second LP, I Think I’m Good, Overall finds the sweet spot between politically infused hip-hop and languorous jazz.
Exploring the racialized hierarchies of the American prison system on tracks like “Visible Walls” and “Please Don’t Kill Me,” the bandleader pieces together a fractal soundscape of clattering percussion, snatched lines of vocals and glimpses of ethereal harmony to create a convincing image of incarceration’s chaos. The fragmentation of the songs can make for a jarring listen, but when Overall allows himself room, as on “Show Me A Prison,” his arrangements are enveloping and engaging.
Unlike the hesitancy depicted in the record’s title, I Think I’m Good is a confident and breathlessly experimental effort; here, Overall is more than good. He is, perhaps, even great.
I Think I’m Good: Visible Walls; Please Don’t Kill Me; Find Me; I Know You See Me; Sleeping On The Train; Show Me A Prison; Halfway House; Landline; Darkness In Mind; The Best Of Life; Got Me A Plan; Was She Happy (For Geri Allen). (39:53)
Personnel: Kassa Overall, drums, vocals, drum machine; Paul Wilson, electronics, synths, vocals; Joel Ross, vibraphone; Morgan Guerin, saxophones, bass, electronics; Theo Croker, trumpet; Vijay Iyer, Julius Rodriguez; Aaron Parks, Sullivan Fortner, Craig Taborn, Mike King, piano/keyboards; Melanie Charles (4), J Hoard (4, 6), Dr. Angela Davis (6), vocals: Brandee Younger, harp.