The latest album from the esteemed jazz pianist and musicologist David Ake, Humanities swings buoyantly through a dozen tracks, mostly original compositions. The only cover on the album is a convincing translation of the Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” into a wistful, earnest ballad in the style of Brian Blade’s Fellowship Band. They showcase a wide range of emotion and timbre, from the calm, spacious “Drinking Song” to the playfully puckish “Rabble Rouser.”
Ake is joined by four stellar New York musicians, all close collaborators of his longtime colleague, trumpeter Ralph Alessi, who shines here alongside drummer Mark Ferber, guitarist Ben Monder, and bassist Drew Gress. The band makes the most out of Ake’s compositions through their shared sense of groove and powerful interactivity—the compositions afford this well, thanks to a melody-driven, improvisation-centered approach that draws from the well of Ornette Coleman’s harmolodic precedent. Each musician shines as a soloist at various points throughout the recording, as well—and Monder is full of surprises throughout, with Ferber’s versatile stylings contributing to a powerful sense of groove throughout the album.
In his role as composer and bandleader, Ake has accomplished the challenging task of creating a deeply engaging document of egalitarian collaboration. The pieces do not go out of their way to showcase his skillful pianism, although this is evident in his solo flights on pieces such as “Hoofer” and “The North.” Ake even tips his hat to this commitment to collective engagement on the last song, “Walter Cronkite,” in which the famed newscaster’s voice is mixed into a spacious improvisation, admonishing us that “Being a democracy, we the people are responsible for the actions of our leaders.”