For Your Consideration: ERIMAJ’s ‘Conflict of a Man’

Houston-native drummer Jamire Williams gets around a lot. He’s part of Christian Scott’s quintet. He’s part of legendary organist Dr. Lonnie Smith’s current trio. He’s head of his own group, ERIMAJ. These are collectives with which he has spent quite some time, which means there are a multitude of groups with whom he has grown a clear rapport. In relatively short order these last few months, all three of these groups have released albums that show clear refinement in style from their previous albums. Christian Scott’s double-album Christian aTunde Adjuah is literally everything you loved about 2010’s Yesterday You Said Tomorrow x 2, showing us a clear continuation of Scott’s views on life, love, and the body politik through the prism of this quintet who show even more that they know how to play together with Scott’s disparate registers. Dr. Lonnie Smith’s The Healer seems to dig even deeper into the soulful roots he has tapped in this career but most certainly after 2010’s Spiral. However, in the realm of Williams, nothing else released this year says here’s the hot fudge, whipped cream, and sprinkles you’ve been waiting to add to your sundae than the transition from 2010’s Memo to All EP, recorded live in New York mostly, to the newly released Conflict of a Man. For any one group to produce an album so wildly good, tweak itself with age and refinement, and then make the subsequent album even better is a major accomplishment. For Jamire Williams to be the backbone of this happening three times over at least is the literal definition of awesome, for Williams is worthy of such awe, no more better displayed than on his own Conflict of a Man out now on iTunes and Amazon.

The album begins with a loose, almost unraveling in real time “Unrest (Journey to the Land of Milk & Honey)”, a track very reminiscent of The Bad Plus’s “Silence is the Question” in its moody, caffeinated build, weaving around the spacey melody the group has had in its repertoire from the beginning starting off with Jason Moran’s Wurlitzer keys and Williams’ drums easing us into the peacefully rattling sound before bassist Vicente Archer pulling his best Reid Anderson impression and guitarist Matt Stevens join in with this knot of sound completing the core of this group that also features trombonist and co-musical director Corey King, saxophonist John Ellis, and bassist Burniss Earl Travis. “Unrest…” is unhinged in the best possible ways. That same feeling shows up through the album with songs like “The Day the Sun Rose Twice”, “Plants”, and their cover of the Tony Williams Lifetime tune “This Night, This Song” — a sultry song that really should be on more playlists curated for jazz fusion inspiration, smoking bowls, and babymaking. Tightness and looseness just ain’t no thang for the ensemble, no matter who in the iteration of the group shows up, vocalist Chris Turner included who can wail just as well as he can croon.

There are moments in the album where the group, all aligned, just a touch of soulful swing in their swagger, when it’s hard not to think of another band led by a Houstonian — The Crusaders. In some way, this sounds like something Joe Sample would have done in the 70s when he, Wayne Henderson, and crew were changing the game.1 This album is the future in the sense that the future is the collection of moments from the present and the past. This is the proper way to pull off melding small touches of 70s jazz-funk, 90s R&B, ’00s neo-soul, frenetic hip-hop jazz beat of the modern era, and still sound ahead of the curve. When the jazz community fights about looking forward or looking back, it’s Williams and co-musical director Corey King who are saying the two definitely aren’t mutually exclusive. One can love (and play) Tony Williams Lifetime’s “This Night, This Song” and J Dilla’s “Nothing Like This” without some stodgy furrowing of the brow. It’s a melding of songs that works and does so with sincerity. With a band made up of a generation of listeners with big ears, their style reflects those broad tastes much to the pleasure of the audience.

Ultimately, ERIMAJ is less a collage but more of a chemical reaction. It feels fully developed after applying heat and pressure and it sounds like a new creation even though it resembles some of the characteristics of its elements. In another sense, it’s like Ravel’s Boléro, constantly building in intensity the more time and elements are added to it but all the while complete. As it relates to Conflict of a Man, this marker in time for the group sure as hell doesn’t feel like the end of the movement even though it’s unfathomable what more Williams’ brilliant talent can add and all the more exciting to wait and see.

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1. With them on one side, Tony Williams in the middle (another even clearer inspirational line to draw, of course), and Joe Zawinul on the other, fusion reared its head with all the good and ill that came after. That’s how game changing works. Nevertheless, my point is this cocktail of sounds and kind of forward thinking is tantamount to a “they’re the _____ of our time” claim that, while still somewhat shoddy writing, serves a purpose of contextualization. I love The Crusaders; my annual real celebration of Joe Sample attests to this. This group is awesome in a Crusaders kind of way.

Corey King was previously listed as playing the Wurlitzer. This has been corrected– King is the trombonist, Jason Moran plays keys.