TY ‘A Work Of Heart’ (Jazz re:freshed) 4/5

London based rapper, producer and spoken word artist Ty returns with his fifth full-length release, although his first since 2010, and it’s here that we see Ty join the jazz re:freshed family for their latest addition to their small but growing and well curated record label. Ty predominantly handles most of the production, with additional beat making duties by Detroiter Tall Black Guy and further vocal augmentations from a variety of vocalists and rappers, with 10 of the 14 tracks featuring guests.

‘Eyes Open’ features the woefully underused Deborah Jordan adding vocalisations and chorus parts with Ty utilising double time rhyming couplets to tackle issues of race, identity and social positioning. The DJ friendly ‘Somehow Somewhere Someway’ with its Roy Ayers-esque chord progression, Afro-beat influenced drum pattern and guest vocals by Umar Bin Hassan of The Last Poets, is a perfect combination of ingredients. Maybe a contemporary album from Umar Bin Hassan is needed in these socially confusing times. ‘Brixton Baby’ is a personal story of Ty’s upbringing in the South London borough with both negative and positive experiences highlighted. Mpho adds the final rap verse but maybe the current growing gentrification of the area could have also been challenged. ‘Work Of Heart’ and ‘Raindrops’ are both solo pieces and ‘Marathon’ includes Ladonna Harley-Peters in the refrain sections with the piece tackling the everyday struggles of modernity.

The two-step soul of ‘No Place To Run’ features Nechells, Birmingham native but Atlanta resident Julie Dexter providing two of the three verses for possibly my favourite track of the set with the ever consistent Jason Yarde adding some non-solo saxophone parts. ‘You Gave Me’ is a reflective ode to Ty’s family and the positive childhood he encountered in regards to how it could have been a very destructive environment, with some uncredited (and rather quiet) trumpet parts. ‘Harpers Revenge’ with its added effective flute augmentations will suit the DJ fraternity and ‘World of Flaws’ is pretty self-explanatory. The final piece, ‘As The Smoke Clears’, which is wholly produced by Tall Black Guy is another soulfully abundant track with guests including vocalist Randolph Matthews and MC Malik from Moorish Delta 7, another Birmingham, UK artist.

Ty reminds me of Guru from Gang Starr and Jazzmatazz fame, insomuch that his delivery is not very dynamic but more conversational, and his relationship with music outside of the hip hop genre is fused within his own compositions. Although examining the negatives, Ty can be quite literal rather than lateral and abstract within his writing, which can possibly lead to a sense of predictability for a complete album listening experience. And being the main producer as well as the artist for an entire project is always difficult. I would have loved to see Ty collaborate with the new wave of young jazz musicians in London (Shabaka, Moses, Nubya, Yussef, Ezra Collective et al) of which the jazz re:freshed organisation are so connected to, which would also provide some fantastic live opportunities.

Personally speaking, I didn’t fall for the album immediately; that came later. I would argue that some tracks are somewhat safe for an artist of Ty’s ability and pedigree. The more personal songs are the core and strength to the record, and the additional vocalists and musicians support Ty’s journey here perfectly. But the supplementary rappers tended not to add much extra value to what was already provided by Ty himself – but this has been an on-going issue within hip hop for years.

Having followed Ty’s work since 2002 and having met him on a few occasions at events while DJing, he’s one of the most genuine and likable people you are ever likely to meet. But Ty is quite a unique artist in the UK in that he successfully combines the worlds of hip hop, jazz and soul unlike others in the country, but I feel he needs to exploit this advantage and his position more. As mentioned, greater use of high calibre musicians could be the key but in both the recording and the live arena. But nonetheless, some very strong tracks are presented here, but I feel there is still more to come from Ty.

Damian Wilkes