To be released on January 31, Standards Vol. 1 transforms cornerstone works by Duke Ellington, Ornette Coleman and more into immersive, otherworldly realms of sound that are uniquely Rafiq Bhatia. Working with a cast of traditional jazz’s most beloved musicians including the three-time GRAMMY-winning vocalist Cécile McLorin Salvant, Bhatia implements dreamlike and sometimes volatile electronic techniques to recast classic repertoire as a window into the darkness underlying ordinary American life. Eschewing nostalgia or emulation, Standards Vol. 1 is a deeply personal and decidedly un-standard record that will have you thinking about the possibilities of jazz in an entirely new way.
This EP’s focus on songs a half-century old may surprise anyone already familiar with Bhatia, a musician whose embrace of sculpted noise and sound design is a far cry from the traditions of the American Songbook. His fearless 2018 LP Breaking English unveiled “a vibrant instrumental sound world where crushing beats, nimble guitar licks, and shifting electronic textures coalesce with a visceral bite” (Chicago Reader). When jazz-aligned artists like Dave Douglas, Marcus Gilmore, and David Virelles call on Bhatia for their own projects, it’s usually with his vanguard sonics in mind.
Bhatia’s committedly experimental orientation may also seem at odds with his choice of collaborators for this EP: erudite, virtuosic acoustic instrumentalists who are largely venerated by the jazz orthodoxy. But there’s an unlikely depth to the history and common ground uniting them that dismantles this false dichotomy, making Standards Vol. 1 Bhatia’s most provocative, forward-looking output yet.