There’s no questioning the sheer sonic variety to be found Robert Hurst’s Bob Ya Head. The album, a project that took two years for the bassist to create, is an experimental slice of music and sound that melds together some surprising influences. The results are not always immediately catching, but there’s no doubt about the amount of imagination and adventure flowing through it.
Hurst is one of those bass players who just pops up everywhere. He’s done extensive stints in bands with Wynton Marsalis, Tony Williams, Charles Lloyd, Chris Botti, Diana Krall, and Branford Marsalis. He spent eight years as the bassist on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Hurst’s work was also featured on the soundtracks of the Ocean’s series of films.
Through it all, he has maintained an open mind to various creative forces. Bob Ya Head is part of that open mind. Released along with Unrehurst Vol. 2, an all-acoustic piece of session jazz, this record is a little tricky to get into initially.
There’s a lot of material weighing on Hurst’s mind, that’s for sure. A big part of the compositions, both in the form of celebration and of caution, is Barack Obama. The U.S. president “kicks off” the record as the subject of “Obama Victory Dance,” a smattering of bass that ends with the mere statement of his name. It’s a hopelessly hokey moment that ends with a roar of applause. Hmm.
“Optimism” piles out of the roars of applause and makes use of a choir of children’s voices and percussionist Darryl “Munyungo” Jackson. Jackson, noted for his work with Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock among others, is a solid presence all over the record. His work in setting up an African backdrop on “Optimism” is his first chance to shine. There’s an easy warmth and a groovy sweetness to the jam that sets the album on the right track after the awkward introduction.
“Comes You Comes Love” lets Hurst show off his spiritual side through his lyrics. The vocals are delivered soulfully by Sy Smith. Smith carves out the song’s rhythm with the deceptively simple verses, while Jackson taps out a glossy groove.
Along with Hurst, Jackson and Smith, Bob Ya Head is populated by the rich sounds of trumpeter Marcus Belgrave, keyboardist Scott Kinsey, tenor saxophonist Vincent Bowens, and drummer Karriem Riggins.
The elements certainly come together on the smoking “Da, Da, Da, Dah.” The piece is the subtle melting of slinky R&B with the open-ended groove of electronic funk. It could be considered the most inventive track on the album. The way it fools with tempo is something to be heard, that’s for sure.
That’s not to say that Bob Ya Head is content to leave its more questionable moments behind. “Unintelectual Property” (misspelling intended, I think) is yet another Obama shout-out. Sadly, this is little more than a pile of go-nowhere sound under a collection of overlapping quotations from the current president and his predecessor. It’s a clumsy mess of a song that does little to elevate what is otherwise a very interesting record.
Hurst certainly deserves kudos for his adventurous spirit. Bob Ya Head sounds like it was a lot of fun to record, as the bassist’s creativity flies high. A couple of sloppy and misplaced moments aside, his latest is well worth a couple of listens for those who like their music a little on the wilder side.