Karriem Riggins: Alone Together
Stones Throw Records

Talk about an impressive CV: Karriem Riggins has not only built up cred in the hip-hop world by working as a producer with artists like Common, Slum Village, Talib Kweli, and The Roots, but also as a jazz drummer who's played with Paul McCartney (on his recent Kisses on the Bottom), Diana Krall, Hank Jones, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, Donald Byrd, and Ron Carter. His solo debut Alone Together finds the Detroit-based Riggins serving up no less than thirty-four beat-centric jams and sketches that range in length from fourteen seconds to three minutes. The collection's fifty-four minutes are like some scenic tour through his professional scrapbook, seeing as how they touch down on pretty much every kind of music with which he's been associated. Though the album boasts a hefty track total, it could actually have been indexed to include more, given that some tracks (e.g., “From Detroit/Belle Isle,” “Stadium Rock”) are patchworks that might otherwise have been presented as two or three separate pieces.

The album's primary go-to tracks are the hip-hop-rooted cuts where, in some cases (“Round the Outside,” “Back in Brazil”), elements deliciously lag behind the beat in that faded style so beloved of crate-diggers. Tripped-out head-nodders like “Moogy Foog It,” “Alto Flute,” “Esperanza,” and “Ding Dong Bells” showcase Riggins' jones for spicing up arrangements with exotic sounds and samples in addition to the expected synths and beats. Harpsichords, piano, synths, Gretsch drums, Fender Rhodes, and the MPC5000 all find their way into Riggins' material. One of the album's most arresting cuts is “Double Trouble,” which, with its ear-catching mix of vibes, flutes, and beat swing, lends support to the speaker heard during “Water” who characterizes Riggins as being “at the intersection of hip-hop and jazz.” In addition there are jams that call to mind J Dilla (the bleepy warbler “Up” and crackle-drenched “Bring That Beat Back (Next Time)”) and even Isaac Hayes (the wah-wah-driven “Ford Jingle”), plus soul-funk throwdowns (“Because”) and Dark Magus-styled rumble (“Live at Bert's”). An occasional sampling of jazz-fusion (in “Stadium Rock”) and traditional jazz (“Tom Toms”) brings Riggins' jazz side to the fore.

It must be said, however, that while there are many great moments on the release, there are also some that would have been best left out, typically the episodes spotlighting speaking voices—the most egregious of which is the momentum-killing patter that occurs during “Ding Dong Bells” and that you'll listen to once but skip thereafter. That said, the plenitude of choice moments makes that a relatively minor complaint. Alone Together is strongly recommended if your heart beats for J Dilla's Donuts (as Riggins' presumably does, given the that he titled the closing track “J Dilla the Greatest”) and Prefuse 73's Everything She Touched Turned Ampexian.

October 2012