Black Nile’s debut album, last year’s Sounds of Color, introduced Aaron and Lawrence Shaw’s mix of R&B, hip-hop, and jazz—a fusion which suggests equal allegiance to history and to the present, from the off-kilter knock of late-‘90s soul to the lush sound of modern West Coast improvisation. The brothers grew up in L.A. with a classical pianist father who played all kinds of music at home. As students at View Park Prep, they studied national and international music in Cuba, Brazil and Spain; later, at the Los Angeles County High School For The Arts, they performed gigs around the city as a way to develop their own sound. Dubbed “The Music of Now,” Black Nile is rooted in the loose orchestration of jazz, but not tethered to it.
The duo doesn’t deviate much on December’s The Further Side: Where Sounds of Color scanned as cosmic jazz fusion, the new album is closer to the ground, swapping some of the wandering expanse for streamlined instrumentals. The Further Side guides listeners through Black L.A. using the imagined tale of an Oakland DJ visiting the city for the first time. On the intro, “Jet Lag,” she hops in a cab at the airport and the driver cues up this very album. Along the way, the rapper Wise corrects the record on what his community is truly about: “It’s more than white tees and Chuck Taylors,” he quips on “Inglewood,” a bouncy track near the album’s middle. Elsewhere, “Crenshaw” salutes the beauty of summertime South Central, while lamenting the gentrification that’s tearing it apart.
Toward the album’s back end, on “That’s Balzy” and “NoBrainer,” The Further Side breaks down into straightforward funk. Though impressive, the LP works best when the sound drifts into the ether, like on “Gumbo, First Serving,” “Second Serving” and “Third Serving,” a gorgeous suite near The Further Side’s beginning that blends smooth jazz, free jazz (the transition between “Gumbo…” and “Second Serving”), and Quiet Storm soul; this is Black Nile’s calling card. In the end, The Further Side is another fine release from the promising duo.