Tom Misch describes himself first and foremost as a beat maker. His musical development began on the humble fiddle, next to the guitar, which he plays prominently in live performances. Misch's 2018 debut album Geography blends both his digital and acoustic expertise, with impressive results.
The London-based producer and band leader shows his love for the sounds of modern soul and hip hop, smoothed out with a highly polished electronic aesthetic. He'll find most fans from lovers of these genres, but Misch's own jazz chops, collaborators and desire for creative freedom have earned him a place on The New Cool this week.
Most interesting to my ears are the special guests, where Misch focuses on his skills as a producer and collaborator. He's sure to let each artist stay true to their own personalities, and his collaboration with these guests is often where the magic happens on Geography.
The violin of Tobie Tripp mixes into half the album's 13 songs. Misch's own blue-eyed-soul vocals are joined by guests Abbey Smith, Carmody, Poppy Ajudha, Loyle Carner, Jaz Karis, and his sister Polly on pop-soul oriented tunes. Old school hip hop fans should jump to Misch's collaboration with Pos from the legendary group De La Soul, "It Runs Through Me" is a laid back update of De La's classic early 90's jazz rap sound.
For fans of The New Cool, let's zoom in on a pair of connected tunes that lead off the album. "Before Paris" begins with an atmospheric synth wash with a clip of Roy Hargrove in a 2011 interview talking about why musicians do what they do. (hint: it's not for the money) This leads to a funk-lite guitar exploration from Misch that recalls hits-era George Benson.
"Lost in Paris" picks up this extended introduction by expanding on the previous guitar riffs and Misch's poppy vocal verses, bridged by romantically themed guest rap from fellow Englishman GoldLink. Johnny Woodham's trumpet solo lends a more direct link to jazz to wrap up the tune.
It's a fun, breezy song fit for a summer drive. It's also a not-so-subtle opening note of jazz on an album more directed to pop fans. I see it as further proof that jazz is working its way back into the spotlight in England, and around the world.
The New Cool airs Saturdays from 3 to 5 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.