Date of Release: December 21, 2010
Some nights Kenneth Whalum III jumps on stage with the likes of Jay-Z, Sean Combs, 50 Cent, Maxwell, Busta Rhymes, or Beyoncé. Hell, he’s even danced with Beyoncé at the 40/40 Club on an off-night. But on other nights, he can be found headlining sold out performances at the Iridium Jazz Club, for instance.
Whalum comes by the saxophone honestly; his uncle is famed jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum who opened for Whitney Houston for several years. Moreover, his 80 year old great-uncle is Hugh “Peanuts” Whalum, a renowned saxophonist in the St. Louis Jazz scene. The story goes that Kenneth went into middle school wanting to play the drums, but the band director knew better and put him straight on the saxophone. We owe the band director of Kirby Middle School a big thank you for that.
With To Those Who Believe, Whalum delves into his jazz roots with the always engaging lineup consisting of Robert Glasper on piano, Derrick Hodge on bass, and Chris Dave on Drums. Getting a crew that is so tight together served to open the boundaries on the album. Whalum serenades on top of the rhythms, knowing he has a solid core to fall back onto. Not only do they just back up Whalum though. Glasper’s spinning countermelodies to Whalum’s soulful horn licks creates music that you can feel comfortable calling deep with different complexities arising with each new listen. As always, Dave is not content on just keeping down the groove. Along with playing the normal role of drummer, he is constantly adding to the ambience of the tracks with an ethereal approach towards the beat. Derrick Hodge on the other hand keeps it on the simpler side, setting the pulse and feel masterfully as he playfully anchors at some points, such as on “Gratitude To Crystal,” and steers at others, as he does on “It Was Written.”
The key word for the album is emotive. To Those Who Believe is a spiritual statement meant for “those who believe,” whatever that may mean. It combines the likes of spoken word, soul, R&B, jazz, and a special cameo by Common to highlight both Whalum’s evident versatility and talent as well as his ability to speak through his music. Combining his experience with soulful church music, a traditional jazz education at the New School and a career of playing with hip-hop giants, Whalum has created something personal that at the same time can speak to anyone.
Words by Eric Sandler