Jazz funks the dance floor

Mar 30, 2005 at 12:00 am

Detroit’s Painted Pictures is making music for the soul. Having recently been granted a fiery weekly performance slot at Detroit’s Fifth Avenue, Painted Pictures has been bringing oodles of hotness to otherwise cold Wednesday nights. “The band has been having a ball at Fifth Avenue over the past month,” group frontman Malik Alston says. “The club loves it and the community loves it, which is a really good feeling.”

Last year, the talented group of genre-blurring musicians birthed a debut album, Tuxedo Sessions, so raw and unapologetic that some music critics began comparing it to a 1970s blaxploitation film sound track. At this, the group’s bassist, Maurice “Pirahnahead” Herd, laughs and says, “Somebody call Melvin Van Peebles!”

The group — which, in addition to Alston and Heard, consists of Yolanda Day (vocals), Badriyyah Wazeerud-Din (vocals), Howard Wazeerud-Din II (trumpet) and Josh Crilley (drums) — has spent the last two years blending jazz, house, lounge and soul into one free-ranging sound. Call it neo-jazz. The result catapults listeners young and old to dark, lustful dance floors where shoes come off, necks snap back and many a hairweave has been sweated out on a sinful Wednesday night.

Members of Painted Pictures say they’re more interested in creating their own genre than bearing the burden of industry labels.

“We’re all influenced personally by so many different types of music — rock, jazz, gospel, funk, electronic — we’re all of that meshed into one when you hear us,” Herd says. “We’re not all about house or all about jazz; we’re about music.”

And like the furtive violin and flute arrangements that magically surface on Tuxedo Sessions after the third or fourth listen, there is something coy about Painted Pictures. It’s as if their music holds the secret, coveted connection between two-step, broken beat and UK mash-up. They’re both wildly experimental and old school.

“When you hear ‘Living,’ you think about Sly [Stone], you think about Curtis Mayfield. Our music is a package of raw soul that makes people want to get up and groove,” Herd says.

Tuxedo Sessions itself is not a particularly long album with only 10 tracks (four of them remixes), but the vibe of the record is so thick, it’s garnered attention from magazines and DJs as far away as Scotland and Japan. Meanwhile, Alston and Herd have signed to Kenny Dixon Jr.’s Mahogani Music label. Expect discs from both of them in the last half of this year.

And Alston says he plans to release a limited-edition Live Sessions compilation from some of the most raucous shows Painted Pictures has played at Fifth Avenue this year.

Each week Painted Pictures rocks the party, sharing the stage with other artists, such as Roy Davis Jr., Doc Link and John Arnold to name a few. Some of them hang around to sit in and jam with Painted Pictures, making the musical mix that much more intriguing.

And while the sessions were originally intended to showcase lounge and jazz, they’ve begun morphing yet again to let the band truly throw down.

“We’ve been leaning towards the soul and funkier side of jazz lately,” Alston says. “The sound is still thick, but it’s less sequence-oriented which really allows the players to do their thing a little bit more.”

And the weekly lineup supporting Painted Pictures also continues to get better. Crowds can expect to see the likes of Paul Randolph, Fluent, DJ Shortround and Brownstudy adding their unique touches to this ever-changing Detroit jazz sound.

“I think we’re bringing something back to jazz that hasn’t existed in a long time — people actually dancing and sweating to jazz music,” Alston says. “As long as folks are having a good time, that’s what it’s all about.”


Painted Pictures appears Wednesday, March 30, with Norm Talley and Dwayne Jensen at Fifth Avenue (Comerica Park, 2100 Woodward Ave., Detroit; 313-471-2555).

Jonathan Cunningham is a freelance writer. Send comments to [email protected]