Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Brian Hudson's Next Level on CD

Lately I've been scratching my head at the preponderance of '80s-style fusion jazz that's being released these days. To paraphrase John Oliver's show on HBO, I'm wondering why this is still a thing. To me it sounds dated. I'm not talking about the compositions or the execution, but the instrumentation--twinkly electric pianos, funky bass runs, sax solos straight out of Lethal Weapon and most of all glassy, slick production values that comes straight out of digital's early years. When it comes to jazz, preservation of classic styles is often paramount--but I'm still questioning the necessity of preserving this stuff. It's all about preferences, I know, and I'm being kind of a pig about it. But sometimes I kind of go, "Ew."

Then I get proven wrong by fusion jazz that balances the old and the new. Drummer Brian Hudson's new album, Next Level, is a case in point. This is funky fusion jazz that does sound thirty years old, but in a good way. This collection of originals from Hudson and keyboard player Randy Hoexter is bristling with pure energy and excitement, and the whole album is executed with such precision that you'll understand why these two gentlemen are so dedicated to this genre.

What sets this album apart from some of the others I've heard recently is that Hudson has gathered a collection of fusion all-stars who have played with such legends as Larry Carlton, Earl Klugh, Quincy Jones, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin and many more. They're all ringers, in other words. Hudson is no wallflower, either--his drumming is up front and center, always full of complex rhythms and textures. From an audiophile point of view, his work is a tutorial on dynamic contrast. The overall sound quality of this CD is stunning in its superb sense of flow and balance. It doesn't sound glassy and bright in that woefully cheery '80s style--it's warm and full and engaging, which is probably why I like the album so much.

So am I warming up to this genre? It's hard to say. I could go back and re-evaluate some of those CDs I dissed over the last year and determine whether or not I needed a valid entry point. But what I really believe is that this is a smooth, professional, expertly played CD that makes me realize that fusion can still be as intriguing now as it was in 1986.

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