The debut album, “Journey” by jazz musician RK Dawkins, sounds like a tribute to bands like Earth, Wind and Fire. The performer’s debut comes after three decades of working in jazz behind the scenes, and forging a law career. The result is a CD that seems an example of “better late than never.”
RK Dawkins and the art of “Journey”
Before I read anything about Dawkins, I started listening. Even the cover art of his CD reminded me of Earth, Wind and Fire. Thus, when I started reading about Dawkins, found that the seminal funk and soul band was one of his influences, I wasn’t surprised.
Dawkins has the ability to play guitars of various type, piano and other instruments. In fact, he plays all the instruments on the recording. This is important because Dawkins’ work sounds as if it is the synthesis of multiple musicians. The seamless blending of the instruments could be testament to Dawkins’ ability in music technology.
The path to “Journey” begins in the 1970s and 1980s, when Dawkins is growing up in Saginaw, Michigan and listening to the funk and soul bands that would ultimately inspire the jazz he plays. By the time he reached college, Dawkins was learning to play guitar, and composing music and laying down tracks for a music studio in Flint, Michigan.
In 1985, Dawkins graduated from law school. Shortly after, he built his own studio. From the late 1980s to 2006, Dawkins become a producer of commercials for radio and television. In addition, did production work for performers in various genres. Most notably, he worked with MC Breed, Awesome Dre, and Dangerous D. Simultaneously, Dawkins was still working as a lawyer. In 2006, he moved to Atlanta to expand his legal career, and left music behind.
By 2016, Dawkins retired from law. He built a new recording studio, and set about writing and recording new music. The result of Dawkins’ new focus is the album “Journey.”
Soundscape of “Journey”
What catches listeners attention at first is the smooth quality of the recording. Not necessarily as in the genre “smooth jazz,” but as in the polish. The rhythms are clear and replicate the traditions of funk and soul.
It seems important that this is the first song. A sound that imitates a bird’s call opens the track. A drumbeat orients listeners to the groove to come. The drum track (it is a program) melds with the bass line and to add texture, a piano groove dances atop the heavier instrumentation. Light vocals sing breathy syllables, and replace the “birdlike” trills from earlier, although those do make a return later.
The image that the sound creates is of a person walking against the horizon at sunset. Maybe after taking a circuitous route to the truth. “The Strut” is an earned walk, not just a bragging session.
But, it is Dawkins who struts here. It is often difficult enough for different musicians to collaborate. How much more strenuous for one musician to play all the parts? The effort is worthwhile, and listeners are rewarded with an urban jazz soundscape with obvious funk elements woven throughout.
Other standout tracks on the album are “Serenity,” “Cruise,” and “The Search.” Dawkins’ work on “Journey” represents a decade of pent-up creativity. Potential fans will hope that the next album comes sooner.