By: Kahlil Kwame Bell
Sheila E. Anderson
Author, The Quotable Musician: From Bach to Tupac; How To Grow As A Musician: What All Musicians Must Know to Succeed (Allworth Press)
Announcer, WBGO, Jazz 88.3FM
In this fourth release of Kahlil Kwame Bell he has shown his growth and maturity as an artist. All songs are originals that range from straight-ahead jazz to R&B, “The Dream.” As with all of his recordings he continues to display that he is a complete musician with a vast musical range not only as a performer but also as a writer, an arranger and producer. Mr. Bell is a multi-percussionist who plays drums and has introduced the Slappaphone, a nine pitched tubular melodic American made instrument, most associated with The Blue Man Group, to the jazz idiom. “Its’ uniqueness allows me to exhibit melodic pitches overlooked when I’m playing drums,” says Bell. On “Entering the Dream” he plays keyboards and Marlon Saunders beautifully delivers the sensitivity to Bell’s lyrics. It is apropos that the title of the first song is the straight-ahead tune entitled “Focus” because it sets the tone of what is to come and establishes that this is a jazz CD with alto saxophonist Bruce Williams playing an impressive solo. Though Inner Thoughts is a jazz CD as indicated by the soloists' improvisations it may be placed in the category of “world music.” According to Mr. Bell, “I’m American but I want to pay homage to the African beats and the roots of jazz. My desire in featuring the Slappaphone is that I want to make history with it." He combines African music with jazz effortlessly. Few drummers are known for leading a band and to often, when they do, one criticism is that they dominate the group. Given his talent as a soloist, the temptation might have been there, but not Kahlil Kwame Bell, for he is a giving person that transfers his generosity as a musician. Inner Thoughts is a well-balanced collaborative effort where each musician is allowed to shine.
Featured on this CD are long time band mates, Alan Grubner on violin, and Shelton Garner on guitar. The other musicians, Lonnie Plaxico (bass), Jeremy “Bean” Clemons (drums), , Marvin Sewell (guitar), are guys with whom Mr. Bell has worked with in various settings over the years. They mix perfectly together to give the recording the glue that it needs. Of course, it helps that the material is so rich because the mark of a good writer is to write tunes that are easy for the listener to remember but challenging to the musicians. All of the tunes on this CD are memorable! Since I heard the recording often one or more songs will pop into my head and capture me all over again; be it the title tune where Mr. Bell has incorporated voices, or the modal tune, “Sauti" which means "The Voice" in Arabic.
A graduate of State University of New York College at Old Westbury, Mr. Bell had some wonderful teachers; the late Makanda “Ken” McIntyre, the late Andrei Strobert, Warren Smith and others to whom he shows great respect. He believes that carrying on tradition and paying homage to others is crucial to the continued life of this music. To that end, Bell has written two songs, “Mr. B” dedicated to Max Bertrand where you hear another moving solo of Alan Grubner and “Quest for Greatness” written for pianist Kenny Kirkland, violinist Noel Pointer and percussionist Don Alias, featuring the young pianist, James Austin. It is fitting that he gave a nod to Don Alias, as Mr. Bell replaced him in Roberta Flack’s band for a year. Kudos to Kahlil Kwame Bell for creating such a terrifically, solid body of work.