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The Soul Express Album of the Month

October 2000

Blackout Studios/24-7, 1999/2000
1) Libations 2) Spiritual War 3) Broken Branches 4) Be Natural 5) Natural Reggae 6) Holyman 7) Peace & Love 8) Misguided Warriors 9) Groove 10) Let the Wind Blow 11) Colors of the Night 12) Runaway Slave 13) Homage (Yesterday) 14) Brazil 15) My Friend the Moon 16) New Born Grass 17) June 18) Dark Rain
Produced by James Collins
Fertile Ground, a soul-jazz group from Baltimore, is definitely one of the most fascinating, not to mention impressive surprises of the year 2000. The quartet was virtually unknown outside the East Coast of the U.S. until 24-7 Records boss Brian Hurst discovered them in the States and released the Spiritual War album in England last spring.
The quartet consists of James Collins (piano, keyboards trumpet) who has produced and written the majority of the album, Marcus Asante (drums), Ekendra Das (percussion) and Navasha Daya (lead vocals). The rich instrumental backdrop provided by the foursome is further strengthened on most tracks by visiting hornmen.
The style of Fertile Ground is definitely rooted in 70s soul/jazz, with the emphasis on the latter word, right up to the mystically flavoured photo on the CD cover. As points of comparison, Norman Connors and the jazzier efforts of Phyllis Hyman and Jean Carne spring to mind, but Fertile Ground's ambitious viewpoint to music has an individual core to it. This is no wonder, considering that the group has created their local fame and honed their musical skills by performing in Baltimore area clubs and are not looking to score big bucks with a major label record deal; they view the records secondary to the live experience. This is actually their second CD; hopefully the debut set Field Songs becomes available, as well.
Navasha Daya's voice is not emotive or raunchy in the traditional R&B sort of way, rather it leans towards jazzier territory. The more I listen to her clear, warm and expressive interpretation the more I like it.
The two tracks featured in the Quality Time column of our previous issue are good representatives of the spectacular quality of this album. Broken Branches is a simply brilliant, majestic soul-jazz mid-floater, and at the jazzier end of the spectrum the sombre 11-minute-long My Friend the Moon with its celestial mood, Navasha's terrific singing and instrumental solos (trumpet, piano) is probably the most profound piece of music I've heard so far this year.
Similarly, the rest of the albums offers varying moods from uplifting joyous jazz-soul gliders (Peace & Love) to more straightforward uptempo plodders (Misguided Warriors), mellow and smooth jazz floaters (tColors of the Night) or even rather pure jazz like the deliciously swinging Homage or the ballad New Born Grass. And these are just examples, I could have given special mention to some of the other tracks just as well.
It should be mentioned that Fertile Ground's jazzy and artistically ambitious approach probably won't please all R&B fans. Incognito have been mentioned as a point of comparison, but their style (which I enjoy very much) is much more accessible to the general record-buying public. I'd say Spiritual War is best suited to black music fans on whose shelves one finds jazz, soul as well as fusion records in peaceful co-existence.
Along with Ledisi, the most exciting new artist of the year 2000. (9) - PR

Other Albums of the Month in 2000
Albums of the Month in 1999
Albums of the Month in 1998
Albums of the Month in 1997

Other CD reviews
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