Sounds Like: Catchy jazz fusion for the Trump era
For Fans of: Robert Glasper, Kamasi Washington, Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah
Why You Should Pay Attention: After a decade or so as the session and touring go-to for some of the jazz and pop world's biggest names (Beyoncé, Gregory Porter, Common), trumpet player Keyon Harrold, 36, finally earned a quasi-star turn as the voice of Miles Davis in last year's Don Cheadle-helmed biopic Miles Ahead. It was Cheadle who inspired the name of Harrold's long-awaited sophomore album The Mugician (out now on Sony Legacy), a collection of thoughtful and wide-ranging compositions featuring artists from Georgia Anne Muldrow to Gary Clark, Jr. to Robert Glasper, who got Harrold his first touring gig backing Common. Harrold's pop sensibilities and activist leanings shine through on the album, which is tied together by its catchy melodies – a rarity in critically acclaimed circles of modern jazz.
He Says: "I want anything I do to be singable – I don't like to purposefully go over somebody's head," Harrold says of his approach to songwriting, which he'd prefer to call anything but jazz. "Obviously we need marketing terms to help package things, but the idea of what the music is can't be reduced to a four letter word. A better term for myself would be 'social music activist.'"
The Mugician's political themes are evident on "MB Lament," a tribute to Michael Brown that Harrold, a Ferguson, Missouri native, wrote not long after Brown was shot in 2014. "It's sad that it's still current," he says. "I have a platform to say something to people who may think they're on the right path – who may not realize that racism is still a problem, injustice is still a problem."
Hear for Yourself: The haunting "Stay This Way" takes the now-ubiquitous marriage of hip-hop and jazz to richly textured new heights, as Bilal and Big K.R.I.T. join Harrold over a beautiful refrain. Natalie Weiner