Sly5thAve | Sly5thAve Presents: Akuma
Truth Revolution Records
by Brent Faulkner
Sly5thAve is no household name – yet that is. After listening to the jazz saxophonist’s debut album, Sly5thAve Presents: Akuma, Sly5thAve’s underrated status is on pace to change. An independent release courtesy of Truth Revolution Records, Sly5thAve recorded Akuma beginning in 2012, completing it in 2013. Not only did Sly5thAve (born Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II) compose the 12 songs comprising Akuma, but he also funded the effort entirely – impressive. A “soundtrack” to Africa of sorts, “inspired” by the Igbo tribe, Akuma is mysterious, unique, and exceptional. Produced by Brad Williams, Akuma showcases magnificent musicianship. Merely labeling the North Texas alum as talented is a remarkable understatement.
Akuma is chocked full of brilliance from start to finish. Opening suite, “Suite for Ogbeufi” spans the first three tracks of the effort. While all three tracks are exceptional, “Suite for Ogbeufi – II”, the middle track, is the centerpiece. Seguing directly from the introductory movement, “II” grooves from the onset, driven by its percussiveness. Trumpet (Jay Jennings) and saxophone blend spectacularly here on the melody, a sentiment that carries over throughout the course of Akuma. Following the head and a superb electric guitar solo in its own right (Hajime Yoshida), Sly5thAve delivers an intense, raucous sax solo that’s definitely a head turner. Later, title track “Akuma” continues the captivation, if for nothing more than adding flute (John Leadbetter) to the mix. Opening with bass, segueing once more for the previous track (“Basslude”), the cut begins with a subtlety about it. Eventually, through punchy horns and round of rousing horn solos (trills, playing against groove, and against harmonic changes), things truly percolate. Like “Suite For Ogbeufi”, “Akuma” is filled with emotion and the upmost musicianship.
“Suite” and “Akuma” only scratch the surface of excellence that is Akuma. “Bach” has ‘classical’ written all over it. The development and pacing – beginning with Sly5thAve’s unaccompanied saxophone and eventually closing incredibly dynamically – truly conveys a complete musical narrative. The most surprising part of the narrative is guest violinist Zach Brock, who absolutely slays his improvised solo utilizing a number of unique effects. “Security” contrasts “Bach”, characterized by its funkiness and cacophonous moments. When guest trumpeter Phil Lassiter and Sly5thAve solo simultaneously towards the end, the cacophony sounds heavenly – if possible. Yet another shining moment, “Deme”, unsurprisingly receiving its own “Prelude”, vocalist Denitia Odigie plays a prominent role within the timbre. Odigie’s lyrical performance merely consists of the repetition of “Deme” itself, but despite the lyrical depth, the way that Odigie’s vocals blend with the sax and trumpet combination is nothing short of ear candy at its best. Brad Williams’ acoustic guitar playing also gives the cut a contrasting sound to many others. Williams also has a similar effect on “Lolo”.
Overall, Sly5thAve Presents: Akuma is a magnificent jazz album. Sly5thAve and his collaborating musicians deliver nothing short of an electrifying tour de force. As a listener, it is incredibly easy to perceive that intellectually, Sly5thAve and company are on a ‘different plane’. Where the newbie could’ve opted for a more straight-ahead, less distinctive debut, he intelligently embraces adventure, instantly giving his artistry a boost. With no miscues, Akuma is definitely an album that should join every jazz-lover’s collection.
The Urban Music Scene