FERTILE GROUND performing as part of the DOWNTOWN JAZZ FESTIVAL at Una Mas (422 Adelaide West), Wednesday (June 27). $17 advance, $20 door. 416-703-4862. Rating: NNNNN
It seems that every day someone comes up with a new scheme to sell jazz music.
From ghastly Motown-covers concept albums to woeful dance-floor remix projects and hip repackaging strategies, record labels have tried just about everything short of signing creative artists with a vision, like Baltimore's Fertile Ground.
The improvisational soul sextet who shift easily from smooth-flowing Afrocentric jazz jams through heated Latin descargas and roots reggae breakdowns cover a broad scope based on vibe rather than style. The Fertile Ground sound might not easily fit with existing genre classifications, but their spiritually rooted approach to soul jazz is connecting with a fast-growing following.
"We never really had a concept when we started Fertile Ground back in 97," explains trumpeter/keyboardist James Collins from his Blackout Studio in Baltimore. "Our sound came out of what the people involved brought to the table.
"I'd been in a band with drummer Marcus Asante, but I'd only ever heard Navash Daya sing a couple of times. I really wanted to hear her voice in an improvisational context. Once we came together, we all got into the energy we were creating.
"The higher the improvisational threshold, the less you're restricted by stylistic conventions. Jazz is all about feeling. I don't care what your level of technical skill may be -- unless you can put across a feeling, you're not playing jazz."
Fertile Ground's audience began expanding exponentially earlier this year when the hip UK Counterpoint label compiled tracks from the group's first two self-released albums as Perception.
When influential DJs like Russ Dewbury and Gilles Peterson began mixing Fertile Ground's Let The Wind Blow and Peace & Love with classic Strata-East and Black Jazz joints, the European tour requests started rolling in.
"We got off the plane in Holland for a show in Amsterdam just recently, and there at the airport was a message from the manager of Basement Jaxx asking us to open a show for them in London the next week.
"Everywhere we've played, the response has been incredible. The amazing thing is that it all happened without a video or an article in a national magazine. All it took was someone telling a friend, "Hey, check this out.' That has gotten us around the world -- two times."