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, blending elements of jazz, classical, rock, and hip-hop. That
evolution continues with the release of Planetary Prince, the debut album by visionary pianist, keyboardist, composer and WCGD founding member Cameron Graves.
Upon signing with Mack Avenue Records, Graves' nearly released four song EP of the same name was expanded to an eight track full-length album, all packed with the same mind-expanding invention that marked all of the work previously generated by the WCGD -- including Kamasi Washington's universally acclaimed debut The Epic (which prominently featured Graves throughout its three discs).
Planetary Prince continues that evolution, with the scope and ambition of Graves' vision only more evident on this release. "Cameron Graves' music is vigorous and refreshing. There is an infectious raw energy on Planetary Prince
that is coupled with these terrific melodies and blistering solo work,
the whole album is energizing," reflects Mack Avenue Records' President Denny Stilwell, speaking on the new signing. In
its full realization, the album only furthers that pulse-quickening,
consciousness-broadening energy and maintains it over the course of
nearly 80 illuminating minutes.
The core of musicians used in the recording of Planetary Prince
are 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.
"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
The title of Planetary Prince, which also serves as Graves' 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."
Photo Credit: Anna Webber
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," "The
Lucifer Rebellion," and the title track. The bold, hard-charging opener,
"Satania Our Solar System," echoes the book's ominous name for our own
neck of the universe.
Not all of the pieces are directly inspired by Urantia,
but all of them share the same cosmic perspective. "Andromeda" was
sparked by striking images of the Andromeda Galaxy, sister galaxy to the
Milky Way as our closest neighbor in the universe; "Isle of Love" is an
imagined destination populated by a race of pure love. "El Diablo"
takes a slightly more playful approach to the ferocious rhythmic churn
of "Satania," this time anchoring it with a buoyant, elastic groove and
unleashing Bruner for a supernova solo. "End of Corporatism" asserts a
political message by way of a bristling, abstract funk that highlights
the interplay of Graves' fleet, fluid keyboard skills and the supple
power of his bassists.
those heady 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 7, 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."
the West Coast Get Down migrated to the recently closed venue Piano Bar
for its legendary weekly series that 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."
About Cameron Graves:
Graves 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.
Graves 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 legendary bassist and fellow Mack Avenue Records
recording artist Stanley Clarke, and is now a member of his latest band,