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London pianist Ashley Henry's modern soul jazz

A Black man with a small hoop earring wearing an olive shirt and wood bead necklaces looks to his left directly at the camera.
Sony Music
Ashley Henry.

Add pianist, composer and singer Ashley Henry to the list of talent on London's dynamic modern jazz scene. His new single is "Melanin", a soulful song of healing that he calls "my celebration of beauty, love and black futurity."

Henry is finding his own voice in 2022. This single and "My Voice" from last winter follow his 2020 debut album Beautiful Vinyl Hunter, which was heavy on collaborations. American players Theo Croker, Keyon Harrold and Makaya McCraven were featured, along with English stars Binker & Moses and Joshua Idehen. Just a quarter of the album focused on Henry's piano alone.

While those few songs spotlighting Henry's acoustic piano took his music on the modern piano trio path blazed by the likes of Gerald Clayton and Robert Glasper, his new singles embrace lush, smooth neo-soul.

The instrumental "My Voice" is buoyed by a colorful, slow groove on the snare as synthesizers wash under Henry's lovely ballad theme. The lazy pace has a hip-hop bump to its jazzy quality.

"'Melanin'" begins with a quick rhythm on high hat that's soon tempered by a half-time bass drum, downshifting from bebop to hip-hop in the blink of an eye. Henry adds layers of electronically polished vocals that finds a middle ground between the vocal production styles of Jacob Collier and Herbie Hancock.

The melodic up and down movement of "Melanin" subtly echoes Michael Jackson's 1979 classic "I Can't Help It." This sounds like a soul single, breaking jazz expectations — until the pretty flute solo at the song's conclusion.

Lyrically, Ashley Henry wrote "Melanin" to describe a refuge from the trials of life. He said he's paying homage to "women always trying to provide a safe space for their families and through their culture, and to the safe spaces I've found in my life."

Calling to go "back home," Henry sings about the beauty of finding home in love:

"Bright as the moonlight, living in your skin, glowing from the inside...melanin."

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Washington. LISTEN ON DEMAND

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Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.
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