With a cool, breezy modern sound that fuses funk, soul, jazz, and hip-hop, Montreal-based sextet Schemes approach their self-titled debut EP with the spirit of ‘90s acid jazz and soul bands like Sweetback and Brooklyn Funk Essentials. Whereas sonically, many of the acid jazz bands of the ’90s produced a sound that was really clean and bordering on polished, Schemes and many of their contemporaries who create jazz in a post-hip-hop landscape seem to have, for the most part, mastered bringing a sense of textural depth to the music.
Featuring Hugo Parent-Potier on trumpet, Charles Miquelon on keys, Phil Legentil on drums, and Tom Tartarin on bass, Schemes is a diverse band with real musical chops who straddle multiple genres comfortably. As for the two complementing vocalists, singer Nadia Baldé has backed Canadian pop star Karl Wolf, Snarky Puppy’s Malika Tirolien, and others, and rapper/producer Mike Clay comes from Montreal’s hip-hop scene as a solo artist.
The band display their formidable musical flexibility on tracks like “Hey There Sister Pt. 1” and “Pt. 2,” which run the gamut from earnest neo-soul to a wild Bitches Brew-era Miles Davis free-fusion sound. On “Hello,” the band develop a delicate, laidback groove for Clay to rhyme over about a love lost. Baldé’s chorus is beautiful and sad, full of longing and regret: “I left you on hold, then realized you hung up / Kept waiting about waiting, now time is up / I could’ve said hello, I should’ve said hello.” The album concludes with “Tomorrow,” a catchy, swinging tune that is anchored by a nimble drum and bass groove with tasteful soloing by trumpeter Parent-Potier. It builds in intensity before exploding into a bright, upbeat section that closes out the track—and the EP as a whole. Lasting a short eight bars before fading into silence, this final section feels more present, gritty, and alive than anything else on the record. It’s a slick musical left turn that points to Schemes’ immense promise.