After years as an essential band member in groups led by artists including trumpeter Terence Blanchard, keyboardist Robert Glasper, rapper Common, and R&B singers Jill Scott and Maxwell, the bassist and composer Derrick Hodge stepped out on his own in 2013 with the release of Live Today, his debut album which introduced a strikingly original voice of his own.
“Mr. Hodge has made a cinematic word of his own,” declared The New York Times in their glowing review of Live Today. JazzTimes called the album “a focused, cohesive and artistically ambitious record,” noting that it’s “identity, and lasting beauty, is found in his arrangements,” and praising how naturally Hodge’s sound wove together jazz and hip hop: “the hypnotic morphing of textures and timbres within these liquid arrangements herald new chemistry and creative fuel.”
Now Hodge returns with a sensational follow-up, The Second, a sincere album that derives its emotional force from the enormous love he received from fans after releasing Live Today and touring the music around the world. While that album was composed by Hodge with a band sound in mind that included special guests, here he opted for a very different approach, forgoing a conventional accompanying band and instead playing all of the instruments himself with only a few exceptions – drums from Mark Colenburg on three tracks and horns performed by trumpeter Keyon Harrold, trombonist Corey King, and tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland on one track.
The Second opens with the title track on which Hodge initiates a plaintive piano melody before Colenburg joins in with sharp, hip-hop-informed drumming. Soon after, Hodge’s fuzzed-out electric bass enters with one of his now-patented hymn-like melodies. The tune’s textures and interactive intricacies continue to coalesce, illuminating Hodge’s musical dexterity.
Hodge anchors the cinematic interlude “Transitions” with acoustic bass while ethereal electric guitar and bass lines shimmer inside a delicate electronica soundscape. The appropriately titled ballad “Song 3” comes after by way of gentle synth-chords, a tender piano accompaniment and Hodge’s stunning electric bass melody.
On the uplifting “You Believed” Hodge taps out a unison melodic line on piano and electric bass against a strident four-beat drum riff. Hodge switches the vibe with “World Go Round,” which he envisions as a snapshot of his early years growing up in Willingboro, N.J., right outside of Philadelphia. “I grew up with a lot of great bass players like Thaddaeus Tribbett, Dewayne Moore, and Adam Blackstone. We would all sit around and just play on multiple basses. Sometimes they weren’t even plugged in. That was some of the most exciting times in my musical development,” Hodge recalls.
After the bewitching ballad “Heart of a Dreamer,” Colenburg appears again on the forceful “Underground Rhapsody” on which he propels Hodge’s suspenseful synth riffs, keyboard yelps, and sinewy bass lines with thunderous fills and a rugged backbeat.
Hodge creates a hazy nocturnal ambience on the stunning “Clock Strikes Zero,” followed by a tribute to his jazz mentors on the languid “For Generations,” which boasts New Orleans-flavored horn harmonies from King, Strickland and Harrold. “I wrote this song years ago and only started performing it live after we lost Mulgrew Miller, one of my greatest heroes. At concerts, people often gravitated to that song so I decided to revisit it. It also reminds me of many that came before me, while feeling like something very relevant to me now and hopefully for the generations to come.”
Another specific tribute follows with the captivating “Don Blue.” Dedicated to Blue Note Records President Don Was who signed Hodge to the label, the tune moves in a circular 6/8 rhythm, distinguished by handclaps, electric bass, guitar and keyboards. Handclaps also appear on the laidback “Going,” which features Colenburg’s stuttering drum rhythms pulsating underneath Hodge’s evocative guitar accompaniment and sunny electric bass melodic passages. The album closes with the mesmerizing “From Me to You,” with Hodge singing the caressing melody.
The Second is at once rich, raw and revelatory. While Hodge certainly juggles the roles of producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist with deft acumen, he still keeps accessibility in mind to ensure that melodies soar and rhythms bump. “I wanted to create something that exposed myself artistically, with a heartbeat for the people. My hope is for this sound to uplift people, help them get through whatever, and show that I’m all in for creating music for the rest of my life and career.”