Intestellar Jams: On Jamael Dean’s Black Space Tapes

Will Schube goes in on the jazz prodigy's debut album.
By    November 7, 2019

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Will Schube knows a guy with some stuff that’ll blast you into the next galaxy.

Jamael Dean is barely old enough to buy a cocktail at the jazz bars he performs in. The 21-year-old pianist was born and bred in Los Angeles but currently calls New York City home as he finishes up his undergraduate program at the New School. Dean’s accomplishments are already staggering. He played on Kamasi Washington’s Heaven and Earth and accompanied Thundercat on the road, in addition to sitting in with old LA legends like Bill Cunliffe and Eric Reed. While still a relatively fresh face in the scene, Dean has already established himself as a go-to pianist and composer. 

He represents what everyone loves about LA jazz: he reps the old heads and the new cats equally, his love of hip-hop infuses his jazz chops, and his playing expands the notions of jazz instead of reinforcing what it once was.

His debut LP, Black Space Tapes, was just released by Stones Throw and is a remarkably fresh take on the cosmic, electronic-influenced take on jazz that’s pervasive throughout LA right now. Dean takes as much influence from spiritual chants and the methodical precision of drone music as he does the West Coast Get Down or LEAVING Records. 

“Akamara” spans 12 minutes but plays within enough movements to feel like individual tracks rather than one sprawling entity. Dean conducts a cacophonous orchestra with staggering attention to detail. One gets the sense that these experimental ruminations would disintegrate in lesser hands. “Kronos” features heavy bells and a Rhodes-style keyboard, blending old school Alice Coltrane, with the slick style of someone like Cameron Graves.

Black Space Tapes is impressive because of the space it refuses to ignore. Dean takes the modern jazz landscape and shakes the puzzle pieces before reassembling them in his image. It’s a staggering take on a subgenre we thought we understood. But that’s what great musicians do: they reframe and contextualize something you thought made sense, only to realize the picture was only half-revealed. Jamael Dean is the latest jazz visionary to emerge out of LA, and now he can join them at the bar.

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