May 11, 2021 marks the 40th anniversary of the passing of iconic reggae performer, Bob Marley. Jazz duo Acute Inflections honors the work with their fourth album, simply titled “400.” The number refers to the years of the black American experience, starting with the slave trade in North America. Acute Inflections’ focus on Marley’s themes of love, unity, and freedom, which the group claim have been relevant for 400 years.
About Acute Inflections
Acute Inflections is a jazz duo with their roots in the East Coast. Singer Elasea Douglas and bassist Sadiki Pierre arrive at their respective roles by different paths. Douglas is a trained singer, dancer, and actress. From her earliest years of performing in church, to post-college forays into theatre. Douglas attended Hunter College, and after graduation, she appeared Broadway and Off-Broadway vehicles such as “Dreamgirls” and “Fela!” among others.
Despite finding success in theater, Douglas wanted more. She found it in music. Douglas began working with producers. Writing and performing her own songs soon followed. Douglas made a name for herself through her jazzy and soul-stirring songs that she performed at such venues as The Knitting Factory, Iridium Jazz Club, Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Groove Cafe, and others.
Pierre on the other hand, took a less straightforward route to music than Douglas. Refusing to attend an institution like Juilliard or Berklee, Pierre decided to pursue an additional dream of becoming a pilot. To achieve this, he went to aviation college and became a pilot.
Before he took to the skies, Pierre had already discovered the upright bass as a means to get out of classwork in the sixth grade. Even after his youthful indiscretion, Pierre continued to develop his craft. Pierre’s parents couldn’t afford to buy him his own upright bass, at first. Still, the musician was chosen to perform in the New York State School Music Association’s All-State Orchestra. His work with an additional student group gave him the opportunity to perform in Europe. He is skilled in various genres: classical, jazz, Latin, reggae, and r&b.
As an adult performer, Pierre grew into an accomplished classical and jazz musician. He soon branched out into blues, gospel, r&b, funk, and Latin music. Again, despite finding success, Pierre sought more freedom in terms of performance. He has found it in jazz. After taking a ten-year hiatus from music, he met Douglas. Four albums later, they are turning big ideas into jazz.
The sound of “400” by Acute Inflections
Most audiences are familiar with Marley’s work in their original forms, and in some cases, their rock and roll cover versions. What Acute Inflections manages to do well is getting the most out of their respective instruments. Both the vocals and the bass sound supple and nuanced. These qualities can be heard on such Marley classics as “I Shot the Sheriff,” “Jamming,” and “Get Up Stand Up.”
“I Shot the Sheriff” is probably the biggest surprise on this album of 19 tracks. Despite what audiences’ previous experiences with the song have been, this one is likely to be one of the best and the most different. The vocal quality evokes reticence and reflection. The narrator is vulnerable as she explains what happened in the now-classic incident. “Haunting” is also a word that could be used to describe the song. That definitely makes the song a must-hear.
In the capable hands of Douglas and Pierre, “Get Up Stand Up” and “Jamming” retain their original energy, which is amazing considering the size of the ensemble and the potential sparseness of the soundscape.
Acute Inflections manages to infuse depth and meaning into each song. These qualities are demonstrated with the richness of nuance that brings something new to tracks that audiences have heard for decades. That a duo such as Acute Inflections is giving their considerable musical nod to Marley years after his passing, is a testament to his legacy and their talent.