I didn’t think I’d heard any of Karriem Riggins‘ work when I was asked to review this, his first, album. Turns out that if you’ve listened to a Common album you’ve probably heard him. My closest audio encounter with him seems to be that he finished Dilla’s posthumously released album The Shining. Judging by this album, Dilla’s mother picked exactly the right person to complete the work on it.
The first thing that strikes you about Alone Together is that it feels like Dilla rose up and got back to work again. That’s an initial impression from the early tracks on the album though. As it unfolds it opens up into a far wider sonic landscape; this is not merely a Dilla disciple re-treading that same hallowed ground. I won’t waste your or my time trying to sum it up because I won’t be able to do it any better than the two radio DJs who’s voices appear on ‘Water’. They say that Karriem Riggins is “right at the intersection of hip hop and jazz and he’s known well in both worlds”. Listen to this album and you’ll hear that they are spot on.
We, in the hip hop world, have had many flirtations with jazz. In many ways it infuses so much of our most cherished works, but this feels different. It doesn’t feel like hip hop doing jazz or jazz doing hip hop. This feels like a proper infusion of the two. There are moments on this album that feel like they’re more hip hop than jazz and there are moments that feel more jazz than hip hop but at any given moment it still feels like the sounds could be from either world.
The album starts with a grand fanfare and that’s a fitting way to mark the arrival of such a grand album. After that introduction it’s straight down to business though and ‘Round The Outside’ sounds like what Bruce Lee would have listened to as he took out Han’s guards in Enter The Dragon. It’s synthy and busy beats would be the perfect accompaniment to dungeon bound shit-kicking.
There are lots of tracks here that sound familiar yet at the same time new. Take ‘A7 Mix’, for instance. Those of you that are familiar with Madvillain’s ‘Papermill’ will be scratching your heads trying to work out if it’s from the same record or just something similar. That’s no bad thing though as, I’m sure we’ll all agree, ‘Papermill’ is spectacularly good. There are some tracks that will be stylistically familiar to hip hop heads; ‘Moogy Foog It’, ‘Alto Flute’ and ‘Esperanza’ to name but a few. Special mention goes to ‘Esperanza’ for having the most joyful flute flutter tonguing. Every time I hear that it makes me smile.
It’s not all jazz, hip hop and prog rock though. ‘daOOOOOH!!’ sounds like some of the better house records that I bought in my younger years. It’s got a heavy kick, triangle in the high band and a choppy snare set low in the mix. It reminds me of some of the more choice Louie Vega tracks. ‘Tom Toms’ would make all the Pitchfork readership feel a warm trickle down the inside of their skinny jeans right into their TOMS. It’s understated mix and ethereal voices wouldn’t be out of place on a Nite Jewel album.
Where the album falls down is in successfully shepherding all of these varied sounds smoothly into my ear. I often found it quite jarring to be so sharply jerked between differing tones. I’m assuming that that was his intention but my personal prefence is for a much more smoothly flowing album. I guess years of Djing and being a fan of the concept album has made me intolerant of things that don’t fit together well. It’s a small gripe but it’s one that will prevent me from truly falling for this album.
Alone Together shows Karriem Riggins to be an artist who is embarking upon a musical journey. If this is where he starts from than we can maybe dare to expect great things from him.