The release of Kamasi Washington's The Epic last
year marked a seismic shift in the jazz landscape and the game-changing
arrival of the genre-blurring Los Angeles collective West Coast Get
Down. That evolution continues with the release of Planetary Prince, the debut album by visionary pianist, keyboardist, composer and WCGD founding member Cameron Graves.
The four ambitious, progressive pieces on Planetary Prince were
recorded during a marathon 11-hour studio session (a second volume is
due later this year), the pressure-cooker intensity of which is
reflected in its fiery, transcendent playing. The core of the band is
made up of fellow West Coast Get Down members, whose musical and
personal relationships with Graves stretch back to their high school
days: tenor saxophonist Kamasi Washington, trombonist Ryan Porter, bassist Stephen "Thundercat" Bruner, and drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. To their ranks are added trumpeter Philip Dizack and bassist Hadrien Feraud, both key members of the groundbreaking modern L.A. jazz scene.
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"Cameron Graves is a musical genius. He has an innovative approach to the piano that is completely unique. Cameron's new album 'Planetary Prince' is an amazing and almost unbelievable combination of modal jazz, romantic era European classical music, and mathematical death metal. A style so cool that it deserves it's own genre. Cameron's music has been inspiring me since I was thirteen years old and it still does today! I'm so glad he's sharing it with the world!" - Kamasi Washington
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The title of Planetary Prince, which also serves as Graves' occasional pseudonym, comes from The Urantia Book, a spiritual tome that emerged from Chicago in the first half of the 20th century
and that purports to reveal the truth of humanity through a combination
of spiritual and cosmological ideas, including radical retellings of
familiar stories from the Bible.
"That's a really deep book," says Graves, whose interest in Urantia grew
out of a lifelong fascination with astronomy, astrology, spiritualism
and meditation reflected in both his music and his study of the ancient
Chinese martial art Xing Yi Chuan. "A lot of people might think it's
sacrilegious, but it makes so much sense about the breakdown of the
universe and deities and Earth and man."
The way that TheUrantia Book refracts
religious traditions through the lens of science and speculative
philosophy has parallels with the ways in which Graves and his West
Coast Get Down compatriots have reimagined the jazz lineage with hip-hop
and prog rock inflections as well as interstellar ambitions. Graves
makes a direct connection between his music and the book with pieces
like "Adam and Eve" and the title track.
The other two pieces - "Andromeda" and "Isle of Love" - aren't directly inspired by Urantia but
are no less cosmic in their inspiration. The former was sparked by
striking images of the Andromeda Galaxy, sister galaxy to the Milky Way
as our closest neighbor in the universe; while the latter is an imagined
destination populated by a race of pure love.
those mind-expanding concepts are key to the sprawling imagination of
Graves' tunes, they aren't responsible for the fervent, impassioned
playing of Graves and his ensemble. That comes from the members' nearly
two decades of musical history together. "I don't communicate the
Urantia ideas to the band," Graves says. "They just know that my song
titles are kind of weird but the music is really cool. I like to write a
lot in odd rhythms, especially in seven, which takes the music
somewhere else and lets the cats build off of that."
initially met Washington, Porter and the Bruner brothers in his
freshman year at Locke High School in Los Angeles, when they'd rehearse
together in school band and spend recess listening to John Coltrane
together. At only 16-years-old, Graves, along with Washington and the
Bruners, made his recorded debut with their collective group, the Young
Jazz Giants. The group started playing regularly at a local poetry spot
called Doboy's Dozens, eventually shifting to Fifth St. Dicks where they
started experimenting with a ten piece band.
when we started getting into our groove," Graves recalls. "We were
finding grooves, writing different songs, and learning from each other,
creating that chemistry that we have today."
In 2007, bassist and WCGD founding member Miles Mosley discovered
the Piano Bar, which led to the now-legendary West Coast Get Down weekly
series at the venue where they further honed their collective sound and
notorious energy, which they channeled into the recording of
The Epic and now Planetary Prince.
"We've been playing this material with that kind of intensity for a
long time now," Graves says. "We all grew up listening together to
hip-hop and rock and metal and jazz, so we all know where we're going
and how to complement it. It's just intuition."
has also carved out a notable career apart from the WCGD. With his
brother Taylor he formed the R&B/fusion duo The Graves Brothers,
releasing their debut, Look to the Stars, in 2013. That project
grew out of a British/American pop group called The Score with which the
brothers found enormous success in England.
was also a key member of actress/musician Jada Pinkett Smith's nu-metal
band Wicked Wisdom, providing entrée into the world of film and
television scoring through the Pinkett Smith-directed film The Human Contract and TV series Hawthorne.
Through his soundtrack work Graves connected with Stanley Clarke, and
is now a member of the great bassist/composer's latest band.