Miles Mosley – Uprising
(Verve. CD Review by John L. Walters)
Miles Mosley’s song Abraham was a highlight of last year’s Love Supreme Festival, an effective change of mood within an already magnificent set by Kamasi Washington, with whom Mosley plays bass. With a catchy piano hook, forthright lyric (‘mediocrity is everywhere’) and spine-tingling organ, Abraham hinted at another huge talent working within in the collective known as the West Coast Get Down (WCGD).
Uprising confirms the promise of Abraham – it’s an album of soulful songs in the tradition of Motown, Stax and Atlantic, labels whose best black artists dominated pop music in the 1960s and early 70s. Mosley has considerable chops as a composer / arranger, but he doesn’t overplay that hand – this is a beautifully paced, well produced album whose instrumental elements are always in the service of his songs.
Mosley co-produced Uprising with his manager Barbara Sealy, who co-wrote some of the songs, and ace drummer Tony Austin. The core line-up is Mosley and Austin, keyboard players Brandon Coleman and Cameron Graves and a frontline of Kamasi Washington (tenor) and Ryan Porter (trombone). However Uprising also aims for some of the grandeur of The Epic, with additional horns, strings and a choir.
In the opening track Young Lion Mosley appears to parody the ‘saviours of black music’ plaudits routinely handed out to his crew: ‘Thank God for me / Ain’t nothin’ been funky since ’73 … Ain’t nothing wrong with a know-it-all, It ain’t my fault this world’s too small!’
With regard to the 1973 crack, there’s little in the instrumentation and recording that couldn’t have been done 40 or more years ago: it’s just that the WCGD have the skills and the conviction to make it sound fresh. Uprising contains little in the way of samples, hip-hop, EDM, rap or broken beat; there are no Indian, African or reggae rhythms (though it shares its name with Bob Marley’s final album). It is very much a product of the United States of America, and of Los Angeles in particular.
Stand-out tracks include the exultant, triumphal mid tempo soul-rock of Sky High and the Stevie Wonder-like piano ostinato of Heartbreaking Efforts of Others, which swiftly evolves into an impassioned chorus with strings, horns and an ingenious, heavily effected bass solo. Shadow of Doubt starts like an indie torch song but quickly strides into a sprightly pop strut – there’s a touch of the Beatles in the intoxicating horn section counterlines.
As with some recent albums I’ve reviewed for London Jazz, including Abuc (Roberto Fonseca) – LINK – and Parking Lot Symphony (Trombone Shorty) – LINK – , Uprising could be classified as ‘quality pop’ as much as ‘jazz’. Yet jazz fans will find much to enjoy in its eleven tracks, in the way we enjoy work by Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Joni Mitchell and Sting, with whom Mosley will inevitably be compared.
Reap A Soul has a double-time chorus with hints of The Epic in its rough-hewn grandiosity, and the bonus of a remarkable arco bass solo. The gospel-infused More Than This is in two distinct halves: a soulful 6/4 opening followed by a rocking conclusion in 4/4. The track is bolstered by strings, horns, a bass solo and a chorus of: ‘You can’t take it with you when you go.’ Final track Fire has a slight Latin jump, spiky strings and an earworm chorus of ‘I’m a warrior’. Mosley knows how to write hooks and riffs that get right under your skin, and his intelligent lyrics stick in the mind, too.
UK/EUROPE DATES: Miles Mosley and the West Coast Get Down are playing London’s Jazz Cafe on 28 June, followed by Manchester on 30 June, Love Supreme Festival on 2 July and the North Sea Jazz Festival on 8 July 2017.
LINK: Miles Mosley website
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