CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Bobby Sparks II – Schizophrenia: The Yang Project

Bobby Sparks II – Schizophrenia: The Yang Project
(Leopard Music. CD Review by Rob Mallows)

This new release from Snarky Puppy alum and keyboardist Bobby Sparks is a pretty good double album. With some judicious editing, however, I think it could have been a great album.

That’s the only issue I had with Schizophrenia: The Yang Project as a listener. Much of the music is brilliant, energising, voluminous, a real kick-ass mix of funk, jazz and fusion. But as a listener, it felt tripped up a couple of times by introducing a few needless commentaries, interview cuts, soundscapes and filler tracks which, if this were a DVD, would be filed under ‘extras’. I found myself pressing the [ ❭❭ ]  button too often.

Which is a pity, because there is a hell of a lot of good – no, great – music on this album that bursts with feel-good funk as fine as anything Sparks has done with the aforementioned jazz-fusion titans. The keyboardist has flicked with abandon through the Who’s Who 2019 of jazz and bought on board some top, top talent: Marcus Miller, Michael League and Pino Palladino on bass; the late Roy Hargrove on trumpet, on what must have been one of his last recordings; Snarky Puppy’s Jason ‘JT’ Thomas and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight, and Brannen Temple on drums; plus vocal performances from the likes of Jermaine Holmes. And that’s just about a third of the personnel involved.

There is a real thrill-ride rush as the string/bass/drums of title track Schizophrenia rush out of the gate like liquid fire, overwhelming the senses with a fantastically in-orbit keyboard solo from Sparks, on what sounds like a Prophet 5, that just makes you want to punch the air. Hadrien Feraud’s bass on this track both pummels as a rhythm instrument and delights on solo. More of this, please… and there is! On Bobby Sparks Sr’s Famous Chili, legend Marcus Miller and John Roberts on drums build a superstructure of pure steel-reinforced funk over which Sparks shows real tonal creativity, his colour palette popping like a Pantone-level kaleidoscope.

The Comanche are Coming is another strong track right out of the gate: intense, foot-hard-on-the-accelerator fast and oozing groove, it just never, ever lets up. You understand, from this track, just why Robert ’Sput’ Searight is such a popular drummer. He doesn’t just kill this track; he eviscerates and skins it, and prepares steaks for the rest of the month. There are a number of other tracks on both discs which deliver bar after bar of this power-funk-jazz acrobatics, such as Take It! with Roy Hargrove, which had my foot tapping for all seven minutes.

But then, at points, the flow is interrupted by short spoken works tracks, such as The Girl from Tahiti or Too Late Now, Boss Man, or soft soul-rap tracks like All-Mine or Can We Make Love? (which bring to mine some of George Duke’s worst excesses of the ‘80s) which jar, like when you’re watching your favourite film on ITV and the adverts come on.

However, even with these slight missteps, this album displays well Sparks’ creativity as a musician: on Islam on disc two, with Michael League on bass, he plays around with classic ‘Arabian’ tones and melodies, but doesn’t parody them; rather, he shows that the best fusion is not just a mish-mash but a tool for musical alchemy, evidenced by this track’s many disparate elements. Five minutes is insufficient for this feast. On a more conventional jazz track like Zelin, Sparks on grand piano is Hancock-like in his runs and deft in his pauses.

This album is part of the tidal wave of intelligent, expansive power-jazz-fusion that’s a la mode right now. Sparks is clearly at the heart of the storm, and the esteem with which he’s held in the music world is evident in the roll-call of collaborators who add to his creative vision.

I just wish at some point his label had said: “You know, I think we’re good.”

Categories: CD reviews

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