For an artist with a career that spans several decades and genres, Karriem Riggins’s discography is remarkably spare. In fact, prior to the release of his debut LP, Alone Together (and the accompanying two-track 7″ record), Riggins had only a mixed CD, which included a handful of tracks produced by the artist himself, to his name. It seems almost as if Riggins has spent his whole career, from when he began as a jazz drummer in Betty Carter’s band at 19, stockpiling ideas and influences for his official debut. Now, nearly 20 years after he first launched his career as a jazz musician and producer, Riggins has let it all out—all 34 tracks of it.
To say that the album has 34 tracks is a bit misleading, because some cuts contain several micro-songs. Many of them—”Water,” “I Need Love” and “K Riffins” to name a few—contain skits and interludes or simply change gears entirely mid-song. “Because” starts as a sliced-up soulful funk bubbler but transitions into a wailing mash-up of crashing drums, manic piano chord stabs and a hair-whipping, arid guitar solo. The tracks change suddenly, jumping out of lively, sashaying jazz and into a cappella one-man folk songs, as on “F_ord Jingle.” No beat, no matter how seductive and hypnotizing it may be, is bound to last very long.
The scope of Riggins’s album is staggering, and it’s impressive that he was able to cover so much ground, from squelching Moog ditties (“Back In Brazil,” “Moogy Foog It”) to buoyant Dilla-like hip-hop (“Round The Outside,” “Bell Isle Reprise,” “OOOOOOOAAAAA,” etc.) to bleary jazz (“Live At Bert’s”) and beyond. But it also presents a real danger for the album in that the quick, unsubtle cuts are likely to completely disrupt the straight-through listening experience. You might be better off selecting the standouts from Alone Together‘s massive tracklist, like the angelic, easygoing hip-hop/jazz jumble “Tom Toms” and the swirling, gleeful, guitar-led number “K Riffins.”
The star of the bunch is “Summer Maddness S.A.,” a fleeting moment of a song that succeeds not only due to its infectious hook but because it marks the moment where Riggins’s jagged left turns work most strongly to the track’s advantage. It starts as a roll of drums that cascades into what sounds like woozy Latin jazz, but before the 30 second mark, it descends into ebullient hip-hop with a chorus backing the perky vocal sample. It’s the kind of beat that sticks in the brain and infects listeners with charging, determined joy, but of course, it doesn’t last long. After two minutes, it’s on to Riggins’s next idea: the muddy, fuzzy synthesizer march on “Back In Brazil.”
And that is the great tragedy of Alone Together. Some tracks are wildly successful on an individual basis, but they’re cut short or steamrolled right over as Riggins whips through what seems like every sonic concept he’s had in the last two decades. Moments of brilliance are gone too soon, and the dazzling ideas on the crowded tracklist tend to drown each other out and cut each other off.