Jon Batiste is one phenomenal talent that stays under many radars due to the stature his name has in comparison to some of the other band leaders of late night talk shows. His work on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, and an unbound jazz artist – who within the genre – has amassed well deserved praise. On top of that, Batiste is coming off a fresh nomination for Best Original Score at the upcoming 93rd Academy Awards for his work in the film Soul. But within the last year and a half, Jon Batiste has become “that guy” in jazz and he never disappoints. His new album, We Are, is an eclectic array of jazz, soul, and hip-hop blends that splits in base style with eloquence.
We Are carries this sonic split that is a blend between experimental and audacious arena-like songs in the first half, while the more organic jazz-soul blend smooths out with beautiful melancholy at the end. Within that mix there are two songs if you flip gives the album a little more synchronization within the transitions. However on their own, they standout individually through sonic amplification and cohesion.
The first of these tracks, “Freedom,” is a beautifully uproarious song that vibes with the kind of sound Jon Batiste constructed the first half with and would keep the same momentum. Though, ironically, the subsequent track has that same slight in levels it does fit with the mold of the old soul authenticity with the modern twist (that are most times subtle). The percussion on “Freedom” moves in rhythm with the piano, adding a subtle subtext to the overall orchestration that also boasts jazz vocals.
“Cry,” the second of these tracks, feels like belongs within the second half as it differs from the “experimental” aspect of Batiste’s arrangement of sounds. “Cry” is a beautiful soulful piano ballad where Jon reminisces about his life in this beautifully operatic piano centric instrumental. It has this country influence more pertinent to the area as it carries simple sonic texts like the melancholic and slow guitar riffs reminiscent of minimalist blues music. Unfortunately, with that placement, it adds a slight pause early on that cuts the grooves evoked by the first two songs on the We Are and the few after.
Jon Batiste has grown to understand a lot about the world around him through his years as an artist, further molding the kind of music he makes it today. And here he takes that and elevates the album’s sound, which brings varying angles of gravitas. There are sonic grooves that hit those tapping feet sensibilities we call dancing, but beneath the production the songwriting carries depth while delivering fun and emotion. He has these glossy vocal transitions that help with the vibe through the multiple factions of the 38 minute album. On “I Need You,” Jon Batiste’s vocals transition from that fun geekish delivery to an old soul singing the blues with the raspiness overlaying it.
The distinct details within the production and execution of We Are delivers plenty of surprises; one of which is Jon Batiste twisting some of the vocal deliveries on songs that mirror those smooth Cadillac hip-hop flows predominant in the south, similar to the uncanniness of Big Boi and Andre 3000’s flows. This definitely comes from the unique Louisiana flair he brings, similar to the feeling of boiling craw daddies and potatoes on a coolin’ summer day, and there is no escaping a sound as attractive as that.
A lot of what makes We Are fantastic is the near perfect equilibrium in base styles split by a smooth instrumental interlude. Throughout the album, his songwriting is never devoid of depth or broken contexts and lets it create an overlying texture to the songs, whether ballad-esque or jazzy. Jon Batiste is a master musician, both behind and in front of the microphone.