Heroes + Misfits, released by up-and-coming jazz pianist Kris Bowers, exemplifies the emerging trend of fusing hip-hop grooves with jazz proficiency.
Winner of the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition and a Juilliard School graduate, there is no question of Bowers’s ability. Splitting his time between a Fender Rhodes and an acoustic piano, Somewhat of an iconoclast,Bowers delivers smooth lines that hang behind the beat and push forward. “Forever Spring,” for example, begins the album with a moving arpeggio and open-voiced chords. It also features a hypnotic synth style that takes you back to the sounds of 70s Stevie Wonder. While this track conveys a sense of urgency with its fast-moving single note lines, the chord progression hangs back. Bowers looks at both sides of a coin. “Wake the Neighbors,” following suit, uses a tense and energetic drum beat to contrast with a laid-back piano melody. The complimentative blend of indie rock and jazz in this song is unique and refreshing.
Bowers’s band pushes this album over the top. Casey Benjamin, saxophone, adds free jazz stylings and dissonant harmonies that force you to listen. His solo on “#TheProtestor” pushes the limits of an alto saxophone—screeches, dissonant runs and abrupt rhythms combine to build energy over a band that does the same. As the solo escalates, drummer Jamire Williams gets louder and more raucous, Burniss Travis’s electric bass gets busier and more aggressive and Bowers’s chords reach farther out in all directions.
Heroes + Misfits is not without its soft moments, though. “Wonder Love,” with guest vocals from Chris Turner, is vocal heavy smooth and hip modern R&B. An upbeat drum beat and drifting keys mix with legato vocals—creating a happy and lighthearted sound. Trading saxophone solos towards the end drives home this feeling even more. “First” mellows out further. A solo piano piece, Bowers shows his classical influence with angular arranging and intricate playing. But, the same as other tracks, the hard-core jazz emotion is still there.
Heroes + Misfits is the direction that jazz is headed. The players on this album are top notch and the songwriting is spot on. But, more importantly, the tracks sound great. While Bowers and his band have the resume, they can also sit down and make great, wholehearted music. This is slowly becoming rare as jazz becomes an academic pursuit, where clubs pay less and less and few listeners pay due attention. Bowers, blending aspects of hip-hop, free and modern, plays with an eye toward the future. Jazz is constantly progressing, and Heroes + Misfits shows an important step. Bowers, keep moving forward.