Album Review – Gregory Hutchinson: Da Bang

In a world rife with genre labels and musical silos, Gregory Hutchinson emerges from the shadows, blending boundaries with the mastery of an alchemist on his debut solo album “Da Bang.” The 15-track expedition into Hutchinson’s soul sees him drawing from a rich tapestry of musical experiences, ranging from jazz to hip-hop, R&B to Neo-soul. Given the seasoned drummer’s pedigree, the expectations are skyscraper-high, and “Da Bang” doesn’t just meet them; it soars above.

From the opening beats of “Straight from the Heart,” it’s apparent this is not your typical jazz album. Featuring the sultry voice of Leona Berlin and the unique rhythmic flair of Karriem Riggins, the track sets the stage for an auditory journey both unpredictable and deeply resonant. This opening gambit also hints at the overarching theme of the album: a fusion of past and present, of innovation and tradition.

The song “What’s Best for Us,” with PJ’s Neo-soul crooning juxtaposed against Hutchinson’s robust beats, showcases the drummer’s recent foray into lyricism, inspired by dawn musings in a Roman park. It’s a testament to his belief that music is a life story, and this album, brimming with raw emotion and boundary-pushing creativity, is undeniably his.

The versatility of “Da Bang” is underpinned by its guest list. Names like James Poyser, Ray Angry, Nicholas Payton, and Kurt Rosenwinkel enrich the album’s texture, while the inclusion of underground soul queen Sy Smith and Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid affirms Hutchinson’s genre-defying vision.

Tracks like “Crazy Games” and “Losing You,” both graced by Leona Berlin’s evocative vocals, anchor the album with emotional gravity. However, “We Got Drumz,” featuring rap verses by Javier Starks and Soweto Kinch’s saxophone wizardry, elevates the energy, echoing Hutchinson’s experiences touring with hip-hop stalwarts like Common.

Drawing from his roots, which include a rich tapestry of hip-hop culture from the streets of 1980s NYC and soulful rhythms echoing from his Trinidadian home, Hutchinson infuses tracks like “So Confused” and “My Turn Now” with a contemporary spirit while paying homage to his influences.

The haunting “When They’re Gone,” spotlighting the emotive timbre of reggae and dancehall artist Samora and James Poyser’s impeccable keys, stands out. Inspired by personal tragedies – the untimely passing of jazz giant Wallace Roney and basketball legend Kobe Bryant – it’s a stark reminder of life’s transience.

Hutchinson’s roots in jazz, a genre marked by improvisation and innovation, serve as the album’s backbone. Yet, it’s his fearless exploration of other genres and the seamless integration of their unique vocabularies that makes “Da Bang” so remarkable. By channeling the energies of hip-hop concerts and drawing inspiration from luminaries like J Dilla, Pete Rock, and Carole King, Hutchinson redefines what it means to be a jazz album in 2023.

The album’s title, “Da Bang,” is not only a nod to the drum’s essential role in music but also to the profound impact Hutchinson wants his music to have – both on individual listeners and the broader musical landscape. And indeed, the album does bang – in clubs, in headphones, and most importantly, in hearts.

In conclusion, Gregory Hutchinson’s “Da Bang” is a triumph – a musical tour de force that expands the horizons of jazz while staying true to its core. A seasoned drummer who has accompanied legends, Hutchinson proves with this album that he’s not just a sideman. He’s a visionary artist in his own right, and “Da Bang” is a testament to his brilliance. For both jazz aficionados and those looking for something fresh and innovative, this album is an essential listen. In a world where genres often serve as barriers, Hutchinson has crafted a bridge, and the view from there is breathtaking.

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