“Music evolves, including jazz. All types of sound evolve. So do people and our imaginations. That is what I tried to put on tape. Evolve captures the changes in my musical mind and how I have evolved as an artist,” explains award-winning saxophonist and multi-instrumentalist Jackiem Joyner about his fifth album and first collection on which he wrote, produced and arranged all 11 songs.
Juxtaposing invigorating otherworldly sonic-scapes under gentle sax melodies, Evolve is a dynamic, highly rhythmic session that is unpredictable laced with traces of the familiar. Listening will take you to a different place while defining Joyner as a musician and a writer beyond what they’ve already heard from the chart-topping rhythm and groove guy. The imaginative new set has a greater purpose.
“Rather than fitting in with the traditional, I’m bringing the audience along with songs that unfold over different and interesting soundscapes even as I move towards a live organic sound. The songs are very true to me and who I am as an evolving artist. It’s very me and maybe it’s okay to be you sometimes. Jazz audiences want something new and original from me and I think my audience will really appreciate and enjoy Evolve,” says Joyner, who plays most of the instruments on the record along with spotlight duets with two-time Grammy® nominated saxophonist Gerald Albright and keyboardist Keiko Matsui. Joyner’s touring band—guitarist Kayta Matsuno, bassist Tim Bailey, keyboardist Bill Steinway and drummer Raymond Johnson—collaborates on a few cuts.
Joyner gets straight to the point with the adventurous opener, “Generation Next.” An urban-pop track with vibrant strings provides a contrasting backdrop for Joyner’s melodic sax play. “It makes for an interesting combination. ‘Generation Next’ is a declaration that the next generation of jazz musicians is here to stay.”
A live drum feel and prominent thumping slap bass line make “Europa” a hip mid-tempo urban trip worth taking. Joyner’s soprano sax tone is soft as are the evocative etchings emoted by Matsui’s keyboard. “I wrote ‘Europa’ with Keiko in mind. The song follows a very structured pattern—organic R&B actually. It’s a new vibe for her sound,” shares Joyner, who often tours as a member of Matsui’s band when not playing his own dates.
Simultaneous bass tracks run throughout the aptly titled “Double Bass”—one played by Bailey and the other programmed by Joyner—digging a complex bass and drum groove. Upfront, Joyner plays layers of meandering sax forming an untraditional harmony that feels improvisational.
Tracked live in the studio with the full band, Joyner says “Breathe” isn’t easy to play. “There’s a lot of emotion in my playing, and the alto sax parts are technical and very emotional. I composed the song in my head for months, but in the studio the track really opened up. It’s very unpredictable.” Trombonist Paul Nowell and trumpeter iLya Serov join Joyner on the horn section parts, adding majestic qualities to the sweeping melody that simmers on slow cook before erupting into a cascading crescendo.
An uplifting space age exploration orbited by jagged riffs of guitar distortion, Joyner’s soulful lead and horn section sax sets the tone providing a lifeline by maintaining his signature sound on the motivational “Evolve.” “Born To Fly” takes flight propelled by an empowering anthem-like chorus boosted by aggressive rock guitar licks and turntable scratches. “It’s got a contemporary feel that was inspired by the band Linkin Park. The dramatic chords are frequently used in film and TV scores, but not usually used with sax,” admits Joyner, who would like to venture into film scoring.
A short R&B interlude serves as a palate cleanser to set the stage for what’s to come in the second half of the album. “My writing process is very psychological and there is a lot of psychology on this record. The interlude allows listeners to adjust to the new tempo—a new vibe.”
Perhaps the song that follows the most traditional pattern on the disc, “Later Tonight,” is a sweet urban ballad with a soothing melody. “It has a nighttime grown-and-sexy R&B vibe.”
Anchored by a military snare drum, tension mounts on the sparsely produced “See Through Me,” which feels like floating weightless in space. Joyner’s tender sax plays softly, the emotion accentuated by swatches of strings. “This song explains me without words. It demonstrates my softer side in contrast to the aggressive live performer. The song is cinematic with strings that build tension and emotion. It’s very positive and uplifting.”
Joyner wrote “Big Step,” another track that was recorded live in the studio, while at rehearsal with his band. “A lot of this record was written while I was doing non-musical things. While I’m not paying attention, the song is coming together,” offers Joyner. The highlight of the bumping R&B joint is the saxophone discourse between Joyner and Albright. “Gerald has been one of my idols since I was in high school so playing with him was a blast. We played together and alternated with Gerald playing the low notes on tenor and I played the high notes on alto.”
Joyner makes his concluding statement on the expressive “A Gentle Walk On Water,” a heartfelt sax and piano piece. A native of Norfolk, Virginia, Joyner inked his first record deal after being discovered by contemporary jazz stars Rick Braun and Richard Elliot. The 2007 debut disc, Babysoul, earned Joyner Debut Artist of the Year honors from Smooth Jazz News. Avoiding the sophomore slump, his second outing, Lil’ Man Soul, scored two No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Songs chart with “I’m Waiting For You” staying in the top spot for 12 weeks and winning Song of the Year at the 2009 American Smooth Jazz Awards. His self-titled third album (2010) incorporated more funk and pop grooves spawning a pair of singles that peaked at No. 2 (“Push”) and No. 3 (“Dance With Me”) on the Billboard chart. Joyner fueled his popularity in support of each campaign by touring the globe extensively, including performances at major jazz festivals alongside his role models such as Albright, George Duke, Marcus Miller, Kirk Whalum and Najee.
Having established himself in the contemporary jazz-R&B instrumental realm, Joyner switched direction by returning to his roots on his fourth album. Reared in the church, Joyner’s 2012 offering Church Boy was a well- received gospel jazz collection that charted on Billboard’s Jazz Albums and Top Gospel Albums charts paced by the single, “City On Our Knees,” which went Top 20. Prior to launching his recording career, it was the church and Joyner’s faith that carried him through two bouts with homelessness during which he slept in his car. After regaining his footing, he was part of a month-long missionary trip to Africa. “It was a transformative experience that showed me how good we have it here in America. In many parts of Africa, there is no running water or electricity, let alone when you are homeless. It opened my perspective immensely, especially seeing people who were happy even though they didn’t have anything material,” reflects Joyner. “Touring behind Church Boy provided unique experiences like visiting churches where I was able to talk to large audiences as well as share my God-given gift.”
Entering his mid-30s, Joyner is an exuberant talent with creative ambitions in areas beyond music. While focusing more on his songwriting and playing more soprano sax, he’s penning a sci-fi novel. Joyner, who resides with his wife, Lola, near Los Angeles, CA, anticipates a busy year of touring ahead—both with his own band and with Matsui. “I’m excited about playing music from Evolve live because it was written specifically with live performances in mind.” It will be interesting to watch this young artist continue to evolve.