Though Curtis Nowosad has been a major force in The Harlem Sessions local arts collective for about a decade and released two previous albums in 2012 (The Skeptic & the Cynic) and 2015 (Dialectics), I first caught the ongoing wave of the socially conscious drummer/composer’s fascinating and visionary artistry in 2019, when I had the opportunity to interview him to write a bio for his epic third self-titled album.
The groundbreaking, jazz and blues driven album marked the now 34 year old’s emergence as a powerful musical force for social justice, vibing with his longtime ensemble and co-producer, post-bop pianist Marc Cary to illuminate past and present American history (while creating some profound musical history of its own). Self-titling the eight piece collection was a way to share his deeper core identity.
Like a modern sage artfully embodying jazz’s unique ability to artfully, melodically and rhythmically capture the often chaotic soul of history as it unfolds, he imparted his truth and the issues that have long mattered to him via five powerful originals and hard-edged, intensely emotional takes on three thematically related pieces - Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home is Where the Hatred Is,” Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and Nina Simone’s “See Line Woman.”
Nowosad’s hipster, fanciful and genre-crossing re-visit/re-imagining of this dynamic material on CNRMXD (aka CN Remixed) offers fans of Curtis Nowosad and new listeners an opportunity to enjoy these pieces in a fresh light, through the different creative filters and deeply captivating re-mixes of great producers and friends in his creative circle. He’s long been interested in various artistic disciplines and styles of music, and he trusts these collaborators so intuitively that – at least at the start of the new project – he gave them zero direction, providing them just with the original music and a directive to “see what you can do with this.” In a few cases, Nowosad went with exactly what they came up with, and on other tracks, he offered feedback and immersed as collaborator. On the tracks “W4M (All The Time”), “S4MF (Solitude)” and “Never Forget What They Did To Fred Hampton,” he was also inspired to add special guests.
“What was intriguing to me through the process was seeing what it was about each track that grabbed the attention of the remixing producer,” he says. “It certainly gave me a fresh outlook on my own compositions, as it’s difficult to assess one’s own art objectively. My hope is that given the initial subject matter of the compositions, the remixes would prompt people to seek out the original and do research on the song’s namesakes. It’s always inspiring to see things from a new angle.”
As we journey from a mystical and haunting, ultimately percussive and bustling twist on “The Water Protectors” (dedicated to the Standing Rock Sioux and other indigenous people fighting for their rights) to a sensual, brassy, hip-hop spin on “W4M (All The Time),” a romantic and whimsical dedication to Nowosad’s wife Meg featuring two verses by LA based MC Austin Antoine, we’re floored by the intricate details and richly expressive fluidity of the crew (producers from the U.S., Canada and Europe) the drummer has chosen for these reworkings.
All of these talented artists have other works and lengthy resumes you may want to explore once you enjoy the magic they bring Nowosad’s pieces. They include Jesse Fischer, weaving transcendent synth and percussion textures around Brianna Thomas’ fiery original vocals; Jessi Lee, further opening to us the aching passions of “The Water Protectors”; d’boom, creating a mellow atmosphere featuring laid back guitar and dreamy horn accents on “Hard Time Killing Floor”; Keenyn Omari, bringing a deep shuffle groove and hypnotic ambience around Braxton Cook’s original sax, highlighted by JSWISS’ fast rapping; Misha Savage and Jett Carter, adding mystical dazzle, hypno-beats and trippy synth textures to the freedom, liberty and justice themed “Blues For Colin K”; Billa Joints, who adds appropriate percussive chaos, quick paced dance beats and distant horn splashes to a hypnotic swirl of sound on “Home Is Where The Hatred Is”; Gengis Don, who keeps the synth vibe low key and bluesy so the enduring voice of the murdered Fred Hampton can be heard before ascending into elegance and guitar fired jazz fusion on the musically complex “Never Forget What They Did To Fred Hampton”); and Efajemu, who’s all jazzy-hip-hop coolness on the aforementioned romance “W4M (All The Time).”
The instrumental and human voices from the original album shine through as well. Nowosad’s ensemble features Marc Cary, Braxton Cook, Duane Eubanks (trumpet), Andrew Renfroe (guitar), Jonathan Thomas (piano, Rhodes, organ), Luke Sellick (bass), Corey Wallace (trombone) and Matthew Whitaker (organ).
Like its source material, CNRMXD is a thematically and musically exuberant work whose textures and deeper meanings may take a few listens before being fully appreciated. As an absolute fan of Curtis Nowosad’s incredible artistry, it’s my hope that once you appreciate the intricacy and soulful flow of these remixes, you will immediately listen to his 2019 album not only for comparison’s sake, but also to fully immerse in the messages he is conveying.