There are few things more embarrassing than being confronted with your early work. In the offhand chance that you ever dip into the archives and read anything on this website written before 2012, all condolences and apologies are issued in advance. I didn’t actually write them. All scrawls were jotted by irascible rogue, Hannibal Moncrief. Blame him for their literary ailments. In fact, he’s writing this right now.
I imagine Kamasi Washington, Thundercat, Ronald Bruner, Cameron Graves, and Ryan Porter might have similar misgivings about their official debut, 2004’s Young Jazz Giants. Certainly, the record is more traditional than their futuristic celestial jazz of the last few years that brought the genre back when Ryan Gosling was just a gleam in Damian Chazelle’s eye.
But there’s almost always something worthwhile in seeing the early experimentation of artists who would become great. Even if their compositional gifts might not yet be fully formed, the musicianship was already first-rate. This is the result of years studying under legendary Locke High educator, Reggie Andrews. Mentorship from Gerald Wilson, their parents, Hamilton’s High’s famed music academy and just preternatural groove. The West Coast Get Down could always swing. And Terrace Martin even pops up to play alto sax on “Family” and “Stephen’s Song.”
This record reminds us how important context is. If a half dozen gifted black kids from South Central released this in 2017, critics would be falling over themselves to anoint them as the future of music. Instead, this quietly dropped on Birdman Records in 2004—a time when outside of Madlib’s astral flights, the underground cared for jazz only as a means for supplying fossil fuel for samples.
This was the start of the indie era, so unless they were doing Broken Social Scene covers, no one was checking to see how these budding geniuses flipped “Giant Steps.” But 13 years later, we can still hear it and it sounds stellar. Original songs straight from Kamasi, Thundercat, and Cameron Graves. You can see how advanced they already were, how much higher they would ascend, and how much better they were than anything in La La Land.