Sometimes, I wonder what Jimi Hendrix would have achieved had he lived. Patti Smith recently told a story about meeting Hendrix less than a month before he died. Smith sat on the steps of the newly opened Electric Lady studios on August 26th, 1970, too shy to go inside and mingle with the assembled press and fellow musicians. After a few hours, Hendrix himself came out of the building and spoke to Smith on the street, acknowledging her reserved nature and revealing his. At that point, Hendrix explained to Smith what he wanted to do with his new, state-of-the-art studio:
‘He told me he wanted to travel the world…get musicians from all over…and sit in a field for, like, a month playing until they churned like butter and they found one language…the universal language of peace.’
I believe that Hendrix’s legacy would have belonged to Jazz. I tell you all of this because New Blue Sun, the new album by André 3000, not only has a title that feels like it could have belonged on Hendrix’s ultimately unfinished fourth album, The Cry of Love/ First Rays of the New Rising Sun, but that it has a sound that can only be described as ‘the universal language of peace’.
Flash-forward into the tail-end of 2023 and ‘Jazz’ has started to emerge as the dominant creative genre of the modern age, capable of nurturing a head-spinning array of sub-genres and catering for post-radio generations. In terms of a listening experience, Jazz can delight vinyl aficionados, streamers and enthusiasts of live music in equal measure, sitting itself comfortably in living room spaces from a turntable, offering imagination during a lonely commute or in gatherings that can showcase glorious improvisation and expression.
New Blue Sun is not a hip-hop record, it’s a Jazz record. André 3000, now 48 years old has not released a full album since 2006 - Outkast’s Idlewild. So to come back now, in these times, and not churn out yet another piece of turgid nostalgia, the kind that makes you need a shower afterwards, the kind that many commercial artists now rely on, is beyond refreshing.
The record features eight tracks across ninety minutes of music and it largely embraces the rise of New Age, meditative Jazz - never in a hurry, languishing in early morning sunshine, a state of catatonic bliss. Even the song titles seem to wrap endlessly around the lower part of your phone, never-ending and seemingly meaningless. Granted, André 3000 has been known to spend some of his time playing flute in the ‘organic cafes’ of Venice Beach and experimenting with the effects of taking Ayahuasca - but these are the pursuits of the artist. Hendrix pursued the same things, albeit whilst attached to a very different scene.
New Blue Sun is a record that has captured a moment in time for André 3000, a period of his life where he has questioned, experienced and mused upon the nature of freedom. During the lockdowns, I turned to ambient music for the first time in my life and, over the course of two years, I let it in - and I’m not the only one. I felt prepared to listen to this record, willing to traverse the tightrope of enlightenment and bullshit that we walk on whenever we choose to engage with music like this. It was worth stepping out onto the high wire for and I would highly recommend it. Ambient, meditative music - be it Jazz, electronica or whatever else, treads a fine line between spiritual curiosity, music that can cater for the damaged psyche of the audience consuming it, the slow rise of a mainstream drug culture and, it has to be noted, outright pretentiousness.
To be fair, what from that list could be excluded when embarking on a search for the universal language of peace?