The Pollyseeds' “The Sounds of Crenshaw Volume 1” album is deeply tied to roots in urban Los Angeles. Art Feynman’s “Blasting Through the Wicker” comes on the heels of a relocation from his longtime East Coast home to Marin County’s relatively rustic Point Reyes. “Crenshaw” is a vibrant community effort, with more than a dozen musicians (including young jazz innovators Kamasi Washington and Robert Glasper) convened by producer-saxophonist-keyboardist Terrace Martin.
“Wicker” is a one-man effort made in the artist’s bedroom on a four-track cassette. Martin and crew celebrate the silky sounds of '70s soul and smooth jazz mixed with some hip-hop sensibilities. Feynman (aka Luke Temple of electro-folk band Here We Go Magic) draws on the burbling rhythms of African Highlife and German “Krautrock” mixed with the arty moodiness of Radiohead. One is driving around L.A. with the windows rolled down listening to soul station KJLH. The other is a hipster-tribal jam among the redwoods.
And yet, a sharp DJ could make a very cool summery pairing of the sexy sidewalk come-on of the Pollyseeds’ “Intentions” (featuring singer-rapper Chachi) and the bristling joy of Feynman’s pulsating “Feeling Good About Feeling Good.” Or, at the other end of a temperate night, the more somber reflection of the former’s “Up & Away” or the very subdued piano-centric “Wake Up” paired with the latter’s “Slow Down.”
There’s a complementary compatibility to these compelling albums that together strongly evoke seasonal sensibilities and their whiffs of hazy nostalgia. Hey, it’s not all sand and surf here in California, you know. Sorry Dick Dale. Sorry Beach Boys.
Though the “Crenshaw” billing — Terrace Martin Presents the Pollyseeds — suggest some sort of anthology or collection, this is a more coherent, consistent whole than last year’s “Velvet Portraits,” nominally Martin’s own project. On paper the two are much the same — both featuring a core group, the Pollyseeds, anchored by Martin, with a host of guests including such notables as sax star Washington, keyboardist Glasper and vocalist Rose Gold. They’re all in the intersecting circles around Kendrick Lamar (Martin was a key figure on several of his projects) and Thundercat, which clearly remains incredibly fertile ground.
In contrast to the gallery of “Portraits” of the last album, this is, as the album’s brief Moog-and-guitar prelude puts it, a “Tapestry.” From there, “Chef E Dubble” sets the tone with Glasper’s Fender Rhodes and some breezy sax interplay from Martin (alto) and Washington (tenor), followed by that sexy “Intentions” (“Don’t mind my bad intentions, but you’ve got my attention”).
Rose Gold, who also had a couple of star turns on the last Martin album, shines on the sparkling “You and Me.” And the gentle air of wistful nostalgia comes to the fore on two tracks, a slowed-down seven-minute jam on Janet Jackson’s “Funny How Time Flies” (Glasper’s Fender Rhodes topping off an array of synthesizers and vocoder from Martin) and the album-closing “Don’t Trip,” featuring singer Preston Harris, the vibe much like a Stevie Wonder '70s ballad. Wonder, of course, is part of the ownership team of KJLH. So it all comes around on the Crenshaw streets.
Feynman’s “Wicker,” despite the alter-ego name (a tribute to two of his heroes, the late New York musician Arthur Russell and noted physicist Richard Feynman), is not really a radical departure from Here We Go Magic, which, after all, grew out of a Luke Temple solo venture in the late ‘00s. The debut HWGM album was largely a one-man home recording before he started recruiting partners for touring and more recording.
But time, experience, maturity — and the move west — have all brought a nice combo of breeziness and sophistication, of celebration and contemplation to this solo return. It’s easy to see why Radiohead’s Thom Yorke is a Here We Go Magic fan, and several songs, the opening “Eternity in Pictures” and “Slow Down” among them, have very “Kid A”/“OK Computer” feels to them.
On the other hand, "Two Minor” puts words about finding the sweet spot in a contentious relationship to a sweet pop melody fitted over bouncy West African rhythms, and “Hot Night Jeremiah" – running at more than seven minutes – is twitchy and clangy, a bit like the very early Kraftwerk experiments, before it heads out into the psychedelic ether. And let’s note that this was all done without loops or drum machines, just guitars and percussion.
And on the other other hand, “Win Win” contrasts its upbeat title with a very dark, very lo-fi tone, acoustic guitar and spooky keyboards with a nearly submerged croon to his voice, sounding like Feynman/Temple recorded it in total darkness.
Well, that happens in summer too.