Julius Rodriguez, Evergreen Review


Julius Rodriguez, Evergreen Review

by Stamish Malcuss

Julius-Rodriguez-cdMulti-instrumentalist and composer Julius Rodriguez has crafted his artistry with various sounds and styles. At 23, the Westchester native bonds a deep sense of history with an appetite for the unknown. He performs regularly as a leader across New York City, and his contributions on piano, drums, synthesizer, and electric bass appear on a diverse roster of recordings, including releases from Kassa Overall, Carmen Lundy, Brasstracks, Morgan Guerin, J. D. Walter, and Damien Sneed, among other critically acclaimed genre-defiant voices.

Sharp instincts for space and phrasing, and reverence for melody elevate Julius’ expression from virtuoso to an expressive artist. In a few short years, he has garnered peer attention and critical praise from such institutional outlets as JAZZIZ magazine, The New York Times, Paste, and Vanity Fair. He has earned opportunities to perform alongside some of the music’s most distinctive artists, including Keyon Harrold, Victoria Canal, Ben Williams, A$AP Rocky, Meshell Ndegeocello, Macy Gray, Braxton Cook, Laurin Talese, and the late and legendary Roy Hargrove.

Rodriguez’s sophomore album, Evergreen, released under the iconic Verve label, shows his expansive musical vision and versatile talent. The album’s title, reflecting a plant whose foliage remains functional through all seasons, is a metaphor for Julius’s approach to music—dynamic, adaptable, and constantly evolving.

From an early age, Julius was steeped in the rich musical culture of New York City, participating in late-night jam sessions by the age of eleven. His musical journey has seen him become a sought-after collaborator across various genres, contributing his multifaceted skills to recordings by artists such as Carmen Lundy, Lackecia Benjamin, and Brasstracks. His debut album, Let Sound Tell All, received critical acclaim, with NPR noting its genre-defying essence and GRAMMY.com praising Rodriguez’s lively and inspired talent.

Evergreen opens with the aptly titled “Mission Statement.” This track presents steady handclaps, a spacey loop, and a slick bass line that melds into a vibrant piano and saxophone solo. Rodriguez conceived this piece during the pandemic, aiming to blend hyperpop, drum ‘n’ bass, and other influences into a sound uniquely his own. The track embodies his mission to transcend traditional jazz boundaries and carve out a distinct musical identity, jazz pop-hop.

“Love Everlasting” features a collaboration with trumpeter Keyon Harrold, a longtime friend and mentor. The track’s dreamy keyboard melody and robust drums complement Harrold’s emotive trumpet, creating a sonic flow that reflects the enduring nature of deep friendships. Rodriguez’s relationship with Harrold, which began during his college years, adds a personal touch to this heartfelt composition.

“Run To It (The CP Song)” brings a lively, gospel-inspired energy to the album. The track’s boisterous interplay between bass, beats, guitar, and piano evokes the joyous camaraderie of a Southern church service. This piece showcases Rodriguez’s ability to infuse his music with communal celebration and spontaneity.

A surprising track on the album is Rodriguez’s reimagining of Dijon’s “Many Times,” infused with a “jazz waltz vibe” highlighting his innovative approach to arrangement and interpretation. “Stars Talk,” featuring Nate Mercereau, blends synths and freestyled guitar samples to create an expansive, atmospheric soundscape. Rodriguez describes this track as a journey, elevated by Mercereau’s contributions.

The album crescendos to a triumphant close with “Champion’s Call,” featuring Georgia Anne Muldrow’s powerful vocals. Julius’s energetic piano lines build Muldrow’s mantra-like delivery, creating a spiritual and transcendent listening experience. This collaboration encapsulates the magic of spontaneous, spirit-driven music-making.

Evergreen shows Rodriguez’s artistic identity, which defies genre constraints by presenting a body of work that is as diverse as it is cohesive. The album invites listeners to forget about labels and simply experience the music in its purest form. Rodriguez’s journey through jazz and beyond reflects his commitment to authenticity and innovation, making Evergreen a solid find in the contemporary jazz landscape.

In the spirit of jazz, which has always been about exploring possibilities, Evergreen serves as a beacon for the genre’s future. With his boundless creativity and technical talent, Julius Rodriguez invites us all to join him on this exciting musical journey through pop-hop and a little jazz.


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