Jean and Marcus Baylor released their new album “Generations” back in June and it follows us ever since. Four years after “The Journey“, this new album is so rich and diverse and entertaining at the same time – a rare feat these days. Starting off with a Les McCann-like churchy blues organ on “Strivin'”, Jean shows her admirable vocal skills from the get-go. Celebrating love, family, community and faith and telling stories about the Black experience, their experience, the liner notes compare the album with a quilt, the old tradition of sewing layers of textiles, passed on through the generations. And a quilt this certainly is, with so many guest artists contributing, like Kenny Garrett with a fiery and soulful solo on the opener. Elsewhere, Brandee Younger, Ben Williams, Dezron Douglas, or Marvin Sewell.
There is so much joy and positivity on the brassy “Happy To Be With You”, once again taking us to church here with a celebratory, highly infectious soul/blues inferno. One of the highlights is a cover version of “Love Makes Me Sing”, a song originally released on the unforgettable Michael Wycoff LP “Come To My World”. Jean is absolutely out of this world on this one and the interpretation works especially well due to a beautiful string arrangement by Geoffrey Keezer. Jean contributes original lyrics to the Wayne Shorter classic “Infant Eyes” where she once again proves that she certainly is one of the most consummate and enthralling singers of today. The tune stays calm and peaceful, and yet has that certain flow that only a few can hold at this tempo. “2020”, a kind of spiritual with a bluesy touch, tells the story of oppression and injustice, yesterday and today. Here, Jean is literally crying out for justice and peace, complimented by a fierce, almost angry drum solo by Marcus.
On a lighter touch, Dianne Reeves and Jazzmeia Horn contribute their talents to the vocal extravaganza “We Swing (The Cypher)”. The track is a powerful example of swing and scat singing. “Becoming”, another string-laden ballad, “connects the story of Generations by highlighting our individual and collective process of growth through seasons of life”, says Jean in the liner notes. It’s a wonderful story and another showcase for Jean’s amazing ballad singing. The album with its 13 tracks clocks in at almost 75 minutes and the longest track, “Black Boy”, about day-to-day racism, starts mythical and haunting, then segueing into a string part before Jean asks “Black Boy what is your name?”, foreseeing his future full of hatred and disillusion. The struggle continues with a crying trumpet and guitar and is one of the most dramatic pieces on the album.
Tempo and theme change again for a very generous “Walk On By”, not the Bacharach classic but an original, a midtempo soul fingersnapper with cool backup vocals and an overall pretty crisp production with Jean changing from sweet to urgent, from tender to cheering. The handclap part makes it all the more exciting. And there is even more variety here: pianist Sullivan Fortner guests on a Monk-ish “Do You Remember This” with Jean jazzing up the stringently swinging tune. And singer/drummer Jamison Ross helps out on the healing album closer “Only Believe”, another sweet gospel reminding us to keep on keeping on no matter what (“find your peace”), a tune which is supposed to convey “a renewed desire to honor those who came before us while positively impacting the next generation”.
Jean and Marcus are scheduled to play Ronnie Scott’s in London on November 19th.