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Jumpworld Original recording reissued, Original recording remastered
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To those who have gotten to know Wilson mainly through her performances of standards, pop and blues, this album of all original songs will be a surprise. It's a natural development, though, of her early trajectory from member of Steve Coleman's avant-garde jazz collective M-Base to solo artist with Coleman and associates as sidemen. It has a peculiar conceit, as a concept album based on an unpublished Matrixish science fiction graphic novel by her then-husband Bruce Lincoln. It's a jazz fusion, with some avant-garde shadings, a little hip-hop, and an explicitly political sensibility. Not being a particular fan of any of those things, I was surprised how much I enjoyed it.
The main credit for my enjoyment goes to Wilson's always engaging vocals and some more than usually interesting instrumental work. Wilson's resonant, breathy alto caresses and leaps, finding the hidden shadings of notes in a way that brings the most to a line. The avant-garde-tinged elements, which include unusual rhythms and time signatures, and a few somewhat free instrumental solos and scats, are fairly tame and well integrated with the familiar conventions of melody and good grooves. There are a variety of musical textures and song types within a unified sound through the album. They manage, to my mind at least, to convey a sense of something happening.
The politics that appear in some of the songs aren't all that obtrusive, maybe less than intended. Their context is being Black in the late '80s, their flavor anti-establishment, proud, with a social conscience.
The set-up for the story of the comic book the songs are based on is only barely summarized in the CD booklet, and you can't figure it out from the lyrics either, so I'll give some additional background here. (This account is drawn from what appear to be promotional publicity notes for the album posted at the soulstrut forums.) The Grand System Masters, or G-masters, have taken control of a multi-galactic portion of the universe. They use the Dreamsapper to enslave and harness the creative energy of a race of cerebral mutants called the Freak Thinkers, by the power of which the G-masters have made their domain into its own dimension in which they control the laws of physics.
Among the Freak Thinkers is the one and only outthoughtsman, Darvis Joval, who has the ability to escape the dimension of the G-masters by power of thought. Unknown to him, he is the shiftmover spoken of in Freak Thinker legend, whose escape will trigger the Domination Switch, ending the Grand System. But as he escapes to Jumpworld, the G-masters hold his lover Zoruun captive ....
The similarities to The Matrix are striking, a decade before the film.
The album notes and the extended notes just cited make it clear this is Black music in particular, so it isn't much of a stretch to imagine the story includes elements of allegory about Blacks in particular. But it's also presented as having universality, and I think it clearly does.
The song lyrics, almost all by Wilson, seem to be only loosely based on the story, though without having seen the comic it's hard to say how loosely. They appear to be from the point of view of the woman Zoruun, with only a rap written and performed by James Moore within the title song clearly from Joval's point of view. There are songs of defiance, anger, love, metaphysics/science fiction, and combinations of those.
In addition to Steve Coleman and James Moore, the players include Rod Williams, Kevin Bruce Harris, Mark Johnson, David Gilmore, Robin Eubanks, Graham Haynes, Greg Osby, Lonnie Plaxico, Gary Thomas and Kirth Atkins.
If you like Wilson and feel a little adventurous, seek out this CD and give it a shot. I've listened to it several times lately and it's held up well.
(The title of the album and the world it names is spelled as one word in some places, including the edge of CD case and Bruce Lincoln's notes, while it appears elsewhere, including the cover and the title song, as two. The title appears both ways in various listings on the internet.)