NU-JIVE is a band formed thirteen years ago by saxophonist and composer Troy Roberts and they deliver their fourth release with Nations United, which is more than simply a casual concept of unity. This quintet hails from the United States, Australia, Venezuela, India, The U.K., France, Ireland, and Portugal and bring strains of Indian Classical music, West African polyrhythms, 20th Century Classical, Venezuelan Merengue, Gospel, Reggae, Jazz, Soul, and R&B into this stew of music, thus the title. Roberts’ bandmates are guitarist Tim Jago, keyboardist Silvano Monasterios, bassist Eric England, and drummer David Chiverton. The band is primarily fusion-oriented and groove laden. While it’s easy enough on the ears and keeps one tapping foot, there are a few places where the Cannonball Adderley soul-jazz veers more toward the Grover Washington Jr. smooth side. It fits though as the band plays with live energy in a contemporary melding of styles that has terrific moments.
These are ten Roberts’ originals beginning with the groove-heavy “Funkafarian,” a composition in three sections, nodding rather obviously to George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic with the bridge leading to reggae-inspired music from Desmond Dekker and Bob Marley, and the third section summoning gospel artists such as Kim Burrell and Kirk Franklin. As on most tunes, each member gets an opportunity to shine with Monasterios’ keys (both electric piano and B3) and England’s throbbing electric bass especially prominent, not to mention the leader’s soulful lines. The fully acoustic “Tribes & Tribulations” at over 11 minutes gives each band member a chance to stretch out, representing a global cultural mix that alternates between the pensive and aggressive, as if to connote the ongoing struggles. “Mind Melder” heads in the other direction with Monasterios creating mellow textures on his keys and synths to Chiverton’s backbeat and English’s walking bass line. As the tune unfolds there are traces of Cuban, African, and Indian raga modes. “Linger” is a group improvisation on a vamp from Roberts’ 2020 Stuff I Heard, his duo album with Jimmy MacBride.
The most directly pandemic-related tune is the aptly titled “Big Night In,” where one might let loose dancing alone as the band stretches out with synths, guitar and several grooves, including Venezuelan Merengue at the bridge when Monasterios shifts to the acoustic piano. Roberts has so many melodic ideas yet floats effortlessly above backing on every tune. Here he is absolutely flying. “Sobrino,” means nephew in Spanish and is the nickname given to the bassist in England by veteran musicians. England takes up that mantle by using a Moog-esque pedal bard for greasy effects in this dreamy, layered piece, featuring some intriguing harmonic colors in its latter half. This presages the classic Weather Report-like fusion found in the shifting, undulating “Big Daddy Ghetto-Rig” and “Dream Station,” both of which have an improvisational rather than a through-composed feel.
“Five Nations” has Roberts playing in unison with Jago, much the way they did on Best Buddies in their sax-guitar interplay mode. The lines flow smoothly behind Chiverton’s steady beats and synth backdrops from Monasterios who later joins Roberts and Jago in the melody. The title takes its name from the English name for the five Indian tribes of the late 1700s – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. “Hypnagogia” is mostly a duet between Roberts and Chiverton, serving as an interlude and segueing directly into the aforementioned “Dream Station,” featuring an explosive guitar solo from Jago, with underlying West African rhythms and chord changes from the jazz standard “You Stepped Out of a Dream.” When Roberts enters with a seemingly free-form solo, he builds cascading tension inspired by 20th-century classical composers and engaged in fiery conversation with drummer Chiverton. The pianist then joins in this blurring series of blistering runs, which smooths out into a slower groove, indicating that the dream is ending to the swells of organ and crisp beats that resolve in one clamorous final chord.
Troy Roberts continues to be a master of styles and configurations with this eminently accessible, sonically and rhythmically engaging session, emitting steam and sumptuous harmonic colors along the way.