Forty years have passed since the death of beloved reggae icon Bob Marley, but his music continues to inspire new generations of listeners and musicians alike. Among the latter are vocalist Elasea Douglas and bassist Sadiki Pierre, a.k.a. the New York-based duo Acute Inflections. On their recent independent recording, 400, they pare down Marley’s music to its bare essentials (melody and groove) and place an extraordinary songbook into a jazz context. Douglas, who has performed in productions of Dreamgirls and Fela!, brings great sensitivity to her delivery of ballads such as “Redemption Song” and “Waiting in Vain,” but also exudes joy and spirit on groovers such as “Jamming” and “Get Up Stand Up.”
Pierre’s virtuosity is showcased throughout, not in a flashy way, but in his deft and powerful pizzicato; his rich upright bass tone adds layers of feeling and meaning to these interpretations, many of which take on added resonance in the Black Lives Matter era. The bassist establishes a swift pace on an exuberant read of Marley’s “Could You Be Loved,” and Douglas jumps right in, riding the groove and playfully intoning the repeated “couldja” lyric as if she were scatting. The album’s title alludes to Marley’s tune “400 Years” — referring to the institution of slavery in the New World — which crops up in three brief interludes, even as lawmakers in the U.S. battle to control the narrative of this history as it’s taught to school children.