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MYSH AOTY: Yussef Dayes - Black Classical Music (2023)

2023 | Jazz Fusion Jazz Funk Spiritual Jazz

✩✩✩✩ | 4.5/5


  1. Black Classical Music

  2. Afro Cubanism

  3. Raisins Under the Sun

  4. Rust

  5. Turquoise Galaxy

  6. The Light

  7. Pon di Plaza

  8. Magnolia Symphony

  9. Early Dayes

  10. Chasing the Drum

  11. Birds of Paradise

  12. Gelato

  13. Marching Band

  14. Crystal Palace Park

  15. Presidential

  16. Jukebox

  17. Woman’s Touch

  18. Tioga Pass

  19. Cowrie Charm

Drummer Yussef Dayes is a verified legend within the booming UK jazz scene from the last few decades. Even among his peers, his constantly shifting playing, incorporation of various percussion instruments, and unique sonic palate sets him apart. He creates a lively backdrop for every project he is involved with. And oh the projects he is involved in… Dayes seems to attract the greatest talent around, either that or he really knows how to choose his bandmates because his various collaborations with Tom Misch and Kamaal Williams are nothing short of brilliant. This holds true with the artists he chose to work with in making Black Classical Music. Williams and Dayes’ record Black Focus (2016), released under the name Yussef Kamaal, helped launch both of their careers. And it helped bring attention to Britain's prosperous jazz scene, revitalizing the Nu Jazz genre. Coming into this year and hearing that Dayes would be releasing his solo debut I was doubtful he’d live up to the high expectations set by Yussef Kamaals’ short run.

Mind you I had no such hesitations about Yussef Dayes’ skills as a drummer, he had already proved himself as among the elite-tier of jazz drummers. He can match the energy of Billy Cobham and Art Blakey, and the nuance and textural-variance of Tony Williams. If Black Focus wasn’t proof enough then his collaboration with Tom Misch: What Kinda Music, surely was. Released in 2020, What Kinda Music was an eclectic mix of R&B, Jazz Fusion, psychedelia, and electronic music, which more closely resembles the sound we’d hear on Black Classical Music, trading much of Dayes’ breakbeats and speed from Black Focus to fully lean into his one-of-a-kind groove and feel. But even knowing exactly how talented he was, I tempered my expectations. With his previous works he had the boon of a writing partner, and shared the responsibility of composition. But it would seem Dayes was closer to being unburdened with the loss of a partner, rather than hindered by their absences.

My worrying was for naught, as Black Classical Music could be Dayes’ best release to date. The record establishes a warm, homey, open, and expansive sound from the start. Dayes intersperses into the album snippets of conversations, jokes, laughter, sounds from a city street, and the sounds of his own daughter's glee. The album builds a very relaxing groove, and hardly feels as long as it’s 74 minute run-time would have you assume. Black Classical Music is nothing short of a journey, one which Yussef Dayes orchestrates from his kit with complete control. The instrumentalists Dayes works with on Black Classical Music may not be able to rise above the shadow Dayes himself casts, but they make a hell of an attempt. Saxophonist Venna is consistently breathtaking on the record, her playing is silky smooth and her long, droning notes beautifully accent the keys and synths, constructing an inviting atmosphere. “Tioga Pass'' is especially wonderful for this very reason, with the whole band coming together as a cohesive unit. Rocco Palladino’s bass playing is also quite fantastic all throughout the album, again on “Tioga Pass”, but also on “Jukebox”, “The Light”, and “Woman’s Touch” he occupies a space that both helps carry the melody when it's needed and accent Dayes’ drumming. Having mentioned it: guest vocalist Jamilah Berry delivers “Woman’s Touch” in an entrancingly beautiful, positively shimmering intonation, and on first listen it cemented itself as a favourite of mine off the album.

Black Classical Music succeeds at its calmest and most joyful, aka “The Light”, where Dayes incorporates recordings of him talking to his infant daughter Bahia Dayes. Other similarly funky tracks with lush production values include the run of 5 songs that open the album, and “Chasing the Drum” and “Birds of Paradise”. “Crystal Palace” (beyond using tinkling percussion to bring to mind its title) starts a bit of a trend followed by “Presidential”, “Woman’s Touch”, and “Cowrie Charms”, all of them building off of glossy, lyricless singing drawn out over the songs. This string of songs allow the albums final stretches to float on by with an ethereal, nearly psychedelic passion.

Black Classical Music is not without its flaws, however. “Pon di Plaza” is a dancy reggae number that really interrupts the flow of the album, breaking up the beauty of “The Light” and “Magnolia Symphony”. And for as fun as “Marching Band” is, its very improvisational feel doesn’t quite gel with the otherwise very well structured and flowing album. Thankfully, these tracks are not able to derail this project. And after every listen I come out of Black Classical Music even more entranced with it than the last. Yussef Dayes couldn’t have been reasonably expected to produce a more full, lush, and interesting album. It’s full of tremendous performances and heartfelt moments, and the fact that it gets away with being well over an hour in length is a holiday miracle.


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