Slow Release - 2016
As half of the now-defunct sibling duo Shaani Cage, Aleem Khan explored his love of silky smooth r'n'b, especially on 2015's fine long-player Danyaal. But buried amidst all that slick groove was a two-minute snippet called 'Mississippi', where the Alberta-based musician explored - through the voice of a South Asian immigrant atop a languorous piano/drum riff - the shock and disbelief at the poverty and backwardness of that forlorn state, "the Bangladesh of America". Much of that same theme seems to permeate this somewhat more experimental solo set.
"Urbana Champaign is the story of a character exploring race, culture, and identity," he recently told Exclaim mag, "as well as pondering the question of what life would've been like had they not moved to Calgary, Alberta from Urbana, Illinois as a child."
This is perhaps most obvious on the nine-minute-plus title track, a moody jazz-soul opus, where Khan laments in a voice that curiously crosses Curtis Mayfield with Nina Simone, "Scorn smothering me / It's hard to believe / I look down at my feet / Treat me incomplete". But it is on the album's two instrumental tracks that Khan's burgeoning talents are really set free. 'Marzipan', wedged right smack in the middle of the seven tracks, is an alternating gloomy/hopeful piece that manages to cram free jazz, soul, baroque pop and even a bit of sunshine pop into its all-too-brief five minutes. Really brilliant!
(So far, Urbana Champaign is only available physically on cassette, and in a measly run of just 100 copies. So if you've got shelf space to fill, you had better get on it.)
Connor O.R.T. Linning