(5 / 5)
One of the coolest and classiest albums to hit my desk this year. Really infectious. In fact, cooler than the temp’ inside my fridge. Multi-instrumentalist, arranger and producer Sly5thAve releases one of his most accomplished works to date: ‘The Invisible Man: An Orchestral Tribute To Dr. Dre”.
This recording is the result of a concert assembled by Sly5thAve aka Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II – multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger and producer – Eric Coleman (Mochilla) and Kentyah Fraser – who brought in Playing For Change, the non-profit music charity – and was dedicated to building a music school in Compton.
Taking place at the Wilshire Ebell Theatre, some of L.A.’s finest musicians performed at the “Cali-Love” show which was attended by Dr. Dre – who took to the stage to congratulate Sly5thAve’s arrangements, and more than 1200 people who witnessed the first taste of Sly5thAve’s orchestral tribute to Dre’s legacy.
Think Isaac Hayes, MFSB, Salsoul Orchestra, Quincy Jones, John Barry, David Axelrod and Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra – and that quality too. If Miles was still with us; he’d probably be all over this. The arrangements are genius and tighter than the Chancellor on budget day. No fat anywhere on this one.
My gob is truly smacked at just how well hip hop fits with an orchestral, big band type deal. I’d bet there’ll be a good few guys and gals out there, going: “I wish I’d thought of that,” when they hear this.
It is obvious that this cat Sly5thAve has a deep respect for hip hop, and a comprehensive understanding of soul and jazz. Sly5thAve’s projects and accomplishments over the last few years include the inception of that first orchestral concert dedicated to Dr. Dre, playing saxophone with Prince, leading the ClubCassa Chamber Orchestra, and his revered co-reworking of Herbie Hancock’s classic “Head Hunters LP”, which was debuted on the Brighton-based Tru Thoughts label in 2015.
With a core underground following, Sly5thAve’s projects have been backed by Jarobi White (A Tribe Called Quest), Gilles Peterson (BBC 6Music) and some seriously hip and respected on-line and print media. He has also attained much respect from his work with a host of highly- fêted musicians including; Prince, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Quantic, Taylor Swift, Janelle Monae, and Freddie Gibbs.
Born in Austin, Texas, Sly5thAve moved to Pflugerville, a suburb outside of Austin, when he was a child. His father was from Nigeria and his mother was from Detroit, and together they exposed Sly5thAve to a mixture of West African music, soul and jazz.
Sly5thAve grew inspired and aware from a young age and his passion to play music quickly unfurled. He started to play in church, then all through high school, where he picked up the piano and percussion, and eventually decided music was his desired profession. Sly5thAve received formal training at the University of North Texas, where he performed with ensembles and earned feature roles on recordings like the Grammy-nominated “Lab 2009” with the One O’Clock Lab Band.
Mentored by sought-after songwriter and jazz musician, Philip Lasseter – who’s achievements include the arrangement for seven Grammy-winning projects with Fred Hammond and Kirk Franklin, in addition to working as arranger and lead trumpeter for Prince.
It was while working with Lasseter that Sly5thAve was scouted by Prince for his talented saxophone playing, and after a three-month back and forth process of heartbreak and excitement, Sly5thAve found himself in the elite horn section of Prince’s New Power Generation band for two years. “Prince was an absolute genius and a good person” Sly5thAve recalls. “He always treated us with respect and he didn’t have to – because not everyone that’s famous is human”.
The first jazz record that left a mark on Sly5thAve when he was a kid, was Coltrane’s “Blue Train”, and he still gives that one a regular listen today. His musical education featured the likes of Titans Charlie Parker, Cannonball Adderley and John Coltrane, and later, hip hop legends as his inspirations.
Before signing to Tru Thoughts in 2016, Sly5thAve had released several acclaimed musical projects, including his first solo album “Akuma” on Truth Revolution Records, in 2014, inspired by his Nigerian descent. He then went on to found the ClubCassa Chamber Orchestra, named after the house he lived in with a collective of Brooklyn’s creatives, and arranged orchestral covers of Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe”, Rihanna’s “Pour It Up”, and Drake’s “Hold On, We’re Going Home”.
Alongside acclaimed New York music maker Jesse Fisher, Sly5thAve released the “Vein Melter” EP on Tru Thoughts in 2015. The pair joined forces to cover four tracks from Herbie Hancock’s seminal jazz funk album “Head Hunters”,, which was met with acclaim from respected taste makers. I recall giving that a maximum five stars in a major music magazine I wrote for at that time.
The new album, opens with Shiznit” which features Jesse Fletcher, then the brilliant version of the timeless “California” features Cory Henry. Mark de Clive-Lowe pops up on “Drelude for Woo”. “Forgot About Dre”, precedes “Interlude # 2” featuring Zach Brock, and then “No Diggity”, feat. Sydney Driver.
Matthias “Pedals” Loescher, Paul Wilson, Melissa McMillan, Curtis Bailey, Robert “Sput” Searight, DJ Center, Brad Allen Williams, Jimetta Rose and the wonderful Quantic, all make guest appearances across these 23 cuts. Yep, 23 tracks on one CD. Spoiled for choice!
Sly5thAve is a member of Quantic’s live band, and has spent much of the summer touring, as well as working on multiple projects with Ghost Note (formed from two members of Snarky Puppy), Strawberry Jam, and funk project Igbo. Sly5thAve is currently living in Brooklyn, working on new compositions which are set for release on Tru Thoughts in the new year.
No duds here. All gold nuggets. There’s light and shade between the groove-laden stuff, the full orchestral scores and the more stripped back offerings. Never does it sound dated or over-egged either. More so, relevant and contemporary.
The soulful and bang on-trend single “Let Me Ride”, with a sassy vocal from the superb Jimetta Rose, should hopefully draw much attention to this ambitious and obvious labour of love; a sparkling gem of a record.
Surely destined to become a staple for most decent club DJs, and hailed as “a sure-fire, future classic” by one experienced music writer: That’d be me then! I mean it too…
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’