Nabaté Isles blends jazz and hip-hop on 'En Motion' 

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Eastman School of Music alumnus and trumpeter Nabaté Isles has worked with a variety of artists, from Ravi Coltrane and Joey DeFrancesco in the jazz realm to Philip Bailey and Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def) in the pop and rap worlds. Isles has also played on several Grammy-winning Christian McBride Big Band albums.

So, it’s not surprising that Isles’s second album, “En Motion,” released in late January, is an eclectic, genre-defying affair. His superb main unit — Sam Barsh and Rachel Eckroth on keyboards, drummer Eric Harland, bassist Kaveh Rastegar, and David Gilmore on guitar — is augmented by guests from across the musical spectrum.

Isles is in command on trumpet throughout the disc, ranging from a minimal sound that recalls late-career Miles Davis to a fiery intensity reminiscent of Freddie Hubbard.


On one of the album’s finest tracks, Isles reinvents “La Fiesta” by Chick Corea, a founding father of jazz-rock fusion. Isles’s brand of fusion goes further, adding hip-hop and rap to the mix. On “Bate's Letter from MistaChuck,” Public Enemy’s Chuck D delivers a sadly relevant rap about being a target.


Other crossover tracks include “The Jump-Off,” showcasing Ben Wendel on tenor saxophone, as well as a string quartet. “Black Girl Magic” features Badia Farha and Mumu Fresh delivering a spirited rap about beauty, dignity, and pride.

One of the album’s charms is its use of unusual instruments: Victor Provost’s steelpan adds a Caribbean feel, DJ Raydar Ellis presides over the turntables, and Suphala contributes tabla.


The song selections are similarly quirky. Covers include “The Smoke,” a hypnotic composition by The Smile (a project of Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood and Thom Yorke) and a re-harmonized “Cristo Redentor,” a spiritual ballad by Duke Pearson.

Ron Netsky is a contributing writer for CITY. Feedback on this article can be directed to [email protected].
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