Everything old is new again, and, for those unfamiliar with the old, the wheel is eternally reinvented. The art of art is often what artists call borrowing and lawyers call plagiarism.
New York’s ERIMAJ packed references to the past like a Kenneth Clark lecture. Its repertoire included This Night, This Song from the prototypical jazz-rock band of 43 years ago, The Tony Williams Lifetime, and 1991’s enchanting Who Does She Hope To Be by the radical guitarist Sonny Sharrock.
Amid their own material one heard echoes – conscious or otherwise – of jazz guitarist John Abercrombie’s Gateway band and the melodic charm of the jazz-rock that flowered in England’s Canterbury simultaneously with Lifetime’s existence across the Atlantic. There were hints of the funky, dangerous and hypnotic music that Miles Davis espoused around the same time, and even an unexpected blast of something resembling the synth-based phantasmagoria of Tangerine Dream.
Lurking in the improbability of such a combination of reference points lies ERIMAJ’s beauty, and probably the reason the band is perceived as so hip by its youthful audience. The music could well seem revolutionary were the predecessors unknown, and even with that knowledge it is undeniably innovative.
This was not so much in the soloing (as exceptional as that of guitarist Matthew Stevens often was) but in the collective improvising and embellishing around themes and grooves from Stevens, Corey King (keyboards, trombone), Vicente Archer (electric bass) and the brilliant drummer/leader Jamire Williams. The approach was much more lithe, conversational and selfless than has generally been the case when jazz has bedded itself in rock.
But when what we might call centre-stage musicianship was demanded it abounded, whether from Williams’ fizzing drumming, Steven’s sparking, ringing guitar or King’s sprightly trombone, while King (on keyboards) shaded and Archer anchored. There were vocals, too, with Williams’ occasional efforts overshadowed by King’s superb singing on Social Life, one of many attractively chiming compositions from the Conflict Of A Man album