Lonnie Plaxico's 2000 release "Emergence" (Savant) was an apropos title. The album saw Plaxico truly rise from the considerable shadow and weight of his duties as musical director for Cassandra Wilson to put out one of the best contemporary jazz albums of 2000. It was an amalgam of styles: the hard driving rhythms of Brooklyn's M-Base collective; New York-style melodies fused with the atonal horn screeches of Chicago's South Side; grooving funk. "Emergence" was the musical equivalent of breaking ceremonial ground.
With his Blue Note Debut, "Melange", Plaxico has built the house and it's open to the public. Bold and full of fire not seen in the haunting music Plaxico builds with Wilson, "Melange" is an urban collision-the musical metaphors of loitering under street lights 'til dawn and still making it to church on time; players hooking up at the bar after a gig; women falling for the same old come-ons; the general hustle and hectic pace of New York at any given moment.
The rhythm section anchors everything down on "Melange", which isn't surprising since these same guys are also Wilson sidemen. On "Melange" they really cut loose. Cordew pounds on the skins like the second coming of Dennis Chambers on "Squib Cakes", "Short Take" and the title track, but gives the songs "Darkness" and "Sunday Morning" enough space for the horn work of Jeremy Pelt and Marcus Strickland to color the songs beautifully. Jeffery Haynes spices the song "Paella" with some wonderful percussion. Lew Soloff and Tim Ries compliment the off-kilter time signatures of "Patois" and "T.O.P." with funky outbursts of their own.
Through it all is Plaxico, shifting from acoustic bass to electric bass with unnerving ease and no loss of mastery, content to just lay back and keep the music firmly rooted. It is this willingness to stay in the background that separates Plaxico from most bandleaders and makes him the ideal choice as Wilson's right-hand man. "Melange" is jazz that pushes the stylistic envelope to the point of ripping; one eye on the past as the future is just around the corner. If more albums come out like this, the world would be a better place.