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Jordan Rakei’s 2017 album Wallflower was one of the strongest albums to emerge that year—it’s bold, adventurous confection of soul, jazz and electronic influences gave it wings to soar on and stirred the heart and mind in equal measure. Understandably then, the release of his third album Origin has been anticipated with no small amount of excitement and baited breath. Equally though, there is a fair sense of trepidation in listening to his follow-up, lest it not live up to its predecessor’s impeccable standards.
Long has Rakei dabbled in various styles of music, before alighting on a style composed of laid back grooves, broody atmospherics and inward-looking lyrics. While he may share some nuances with the likes of James Blake, his grooves are redolent of Maxwell’s debut album and neo-soul classic Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite (1996) and the work of Leon Ware, albeit with an added electronic twist to proceedings.
With Wallflower, an album of similarly paced grooves, the danger was that they would meld into one, lacking in individuality and character. The details, as ever, provide all the answers—shimmering guitar lines, beautiful electronic tweaks and his plaintive vocals lifted the grooves and gave them personality and form above and beyond the groove.
Thankfully, the same can be said of Origin from the word “go.” “Mad World” with its chanted vocal percussion has an almost meditative groove replete with handclaps and falling, forlorn backing vocals at its climax. The devil is always in the details. Those echoes of Maxwell and Ware sidle by on “Say Something” and “Mind’s Eye” features some clipped guitar work that drives it onward and towards a delicious breakdown that oozes luxuriously.
A tad more dance floor sensibility pops up on “Rolling Into One,” to engage the hips in an irresistible mélange of winning, rolling bass line, space age synth keys and funky guitar licks. “Oasis” though is prime creative paydirt—a beautifully somber plea for answers and rest in a weary world. A sprinkling of piano, a subtly driving beat and a bridge that is understatedly manic.
There’s more than a hint of The Foreign Exchange about “Wildfire” thanks to its keyboard lines and the vocal harmony at the beginning, and “Signs” is another groove that drips with icy reserve. But then something happens that is both a slightly unexpected and incredibly welcome strike—jazzy piano strides at the start of “You And Me” signal a different seam of musical elegance being mined.
From this point onwards there is a definite shift in character that allows Rakei to showcase even more admirable qualities. “Moda” is a peculiar yet alluring creature—a space age theramin sound, a loose, baggy groove and an elegant soaring outro section combine to create a memorable excursion off the beaten track. Gone are the rhythms on “Speak” replaced instead with strings, piano and Rakei’s falsetto, like quicksilver.
Album closer “Mantra” is another example of Rakei’s wings being spread further than before. Bass clarinet and backing vocals from Frida Touray combine to create an atmosphere of eastern mysticism, only heightened by Rakei singing: “I believe in something special / I believe in trust / I believe in us / I believe in my tradition.”
Though not driven by a tabla, there is an unmistakable Indian vibe to the beat that is complemented by a freewheeling saxophone solo that energizes and cleanses the palette, bringing the album full circle from the opening meditative sonics of “Mad World” to the euphoria of the saxophone solo freed from the shackles of form and structure.
Origin is an incredibly adept piece of work, given that it navigates some of the same waters as previous ventures, while also setting a course toward newer, bolder territories. Offering enough to soothe old fans, it also strides into jazzier realms with a confidence that should see future music take more of the same shapes. A willingness to break out of his mold pays dividends for Rakei and rewards the listener with a rich tapestry of sounds, textures and feelings.
It should be said though that this is a record that deserves your time and space to flourish on the best sounding system and format you have. Headphones in place, children on silent and phone in bed, stop what you are doing and bathe in the details and flourishes that Rakei offers up for consumption. Layer after layer piles up to create a lush, expansive record that thrills in the subtlest of ways.
Notable Tracks: "Mad World" | “Mantra” | "Moda" | “Oasis”
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