With the release of his new album Stereotype Threat under the bold, fresh artistic identity FKAjazz (formerly known as…), NYC based saxophonist Samir Zarif lays the dynamic groundwork for the possibilities of what jazz is for his generation and provides a vision for what the cherished American art form can be moving forward. With a freewheeling energy driven by the still simmering melting pot of influences that drive his musical passion – traditional jazz, R& B and hip-hop – the full length collection is the culmination of a multi-faceted journey that transcends easy definitions. It’s always evolving with a sense of grooving and improvisational wonder and discovery.
Stylistically, Stereotype Threat is several worlds and hundreds of ultra-cool beats away from the multi-talented composer/musician’s 2010 debut Starting Point, which was released under his real name. That album featured musical snapshots he had been workshopping on the bandstand with The Story, the progressive, free jazz band with whom he had been touring. Performed with members of that group, the collection mostly featured odd metered material, but the final song “Keep the Faith” had an electronica vibe, a rock-flavored backbeat and Zarif on vocals. He developed this side of his artistry further when he joined forces with producer Brian Lindgren in 2011, and formed the electronic music production duo Pax Humana – which released the full length albums A Matter of Heart (2012) and A New Frontier (2014). His desire to expand to creative endeavors beyond jazz also led to his being commissioned to score a collection of short films by trans-media artist Donna Cameron, which were later presented and distributed by The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
One of FKAjazz’s contemporary inspirations is Grammy winning pianist and producer Robert Glasper, a fellow Houston native who attended the High School for Performing and Visual Arts (HSPVA) some years before the saxophonist. He and Glasper are blazing similar paths while remaining distinctive in their individuality and style. “I’ve always looked to him as an older brother, because while the music he makes is different in a lot of ways from what I’m doing, in essence we’re coming from the same place, creating music that draws from jazz but is more the culmination of Black American music, a mix of old and new with a major hip hope element. Because I grew up listening to music like A Tribe Called Quest, The Roots and Jazzy Jeff, that music is as much a part of my life as jazz. The goal is to take music beyond hip-hop, beyond jazz and create a whole new vibe from all of these influences.”
This desire to transcend easy genre boxes and categorizations inspired FKAjazz to create the perfect album moniker Stereotype Threat, whose opening track of the same name creates a unique generational crosscurrent by pairing the artist’s powerful sax melody with the spoken words of longtime James Brown bassist/vocalist Fred Thomas. While providing a powerhouse platform for FKAjazz’s tenor sax, Stereotype Threat is also a showcase for his skills as a composer, producer and mixer. After creating the foundation of the tracks, he pieced together incredible contributions from his high level cohorts in NYC’s jazz scene, including guitarist Marcus Machado, electric bassist Lez Lemon, guitarist Julian Litwack, drummer Justin Swiney and keyboardist Noah MacNeil.
Also featured is the high impact rap lyricism of JSWISS on “No Way To Go” and “Storytime Interlude.”
Highlights include the “Hard Times” intro that leads into “Brighter Days,” a tandem reflecting the importance of a measured optimism that understands that obstacles are opportunities to grow and learn from; “Angel Cake,” which began as a remake of D’Angelo’s “Devil’s Pie” before FKAjazz flipped guitarist Marcus Machado’s guitar riffs to create a whole new celestial treasure; and “Wander as I Wonder,” whose title riffs on Langston Hughes’ autobiography “I Wonder as I Wander” and which addresses the challenges of deep relationships – and the importance of having a commitment that helps overcome them. The title of the moody and deeply grooving “F.A.F.” came from an Instagram fan’s spirited, off color declaration that the track was “Fly as F***.”