Pascal Bokar – American Trails – EP Review
Far be it from a guy like me to tell the good doctor here that I’d know any better than he does about what to prescribe your ears out there!
The question is…is Dr. Bokar here in for an uphill battle in getting his music out there into the world? Sure! Chances are, anyone out there attempting to blaze their own unique trail would experience the same hardships in that respect. Also as likely, anyone willing to go their own route isn’t doing it for mere commercialized success to begin with; when you’re generating a new aspect of the art/craft you love, or putting your own spin onto anything you do from spirituality to science & everything in between – it’s usually a large indication of genuine passion and an authentic love of the game. Pascal Bokar has more than enough going on for him in life outside of making his own music to have kept him more than busy enough as the head faculty member at the University of San Francisco in charge of Jazz Studies and the Social Justice Department. Safe to say, if he’s willing to record his own tunes in what few spare minutes he’s likely to have, it can be traced right down to the roots of a true desire to play & entertain.
And so here we are – Pascal’s not only making music, but he’s managed to manufacture his own entire genre through his efforts, dubbing his style as AfroBlueGrazz when it comes to how it sounds. Again – I’m not gonna be the guy to disagree with the good doctor here – how could any of us? Unless you’ve somehow had access to a genre/style that was yet to exist before Bokar popped up, we kind of have to take him at his word that this is indeed, what he claims it to be, you dig? AfroBlueGrazz it is – I’m here for it – y’all know me, I’m always interested in something I haven’t heard before, and this record at-large definitely qualifies in that respect. The realities are that, yes, he will have an uphill battle ahead in terms of getting this out there into the world in this day & age – but as I tell ya all the time, since the internet age first kicked-in way-back-when, the audience for all styles exists, it just takes a lil’ time for them all to catch on. AfroBlueGrazz will not only find its audience, but the ambitiously hybrid nature of what Pascal Bokar is creating here will undoubtedly go on to inspire many others out there to jump into this genre.
“The Blues Don’t Like Nobody” – #aintthatthetruth! In response, Pascal and guest-star Paula Harris go & proceed to twist the Blues in every direction to make it much more inviting & friendly through an upbeat introduction to the AfroBlueGrazz sound…to the point where most people listening likely might not even realize its Blues roots! Which is A-ok with me…it’s not that I don’t have time for the Blues – I got love for that genre like I do just about all of’em out there – but it IS extremely rare to even hear the slightest of twists on the style & sound, let alone one that’s as vibrant & bold & direct about it as this track is. With the energy of the scat singing leading the way, the instrumentation kickin’ up a colorful storm of sound, swagger, and style – Pascal lays out the intro, and Paula comes in right afterwards to hit a remarkable home-run. They’ll go on to another duet of sorts on the song to follow as well…which has its moments – but here at the beginning, you can’t help but seriously love the way these two sing & swing through this first track, immediately making an impression through charisma & undeniable professionalism that keeps the focus locked-on delivering their A-game from every possible angle. Bass-lines are kickin’ out the jams, the drums are right on-point, the guitars and banjo are essential – “The Blues Don’t Like Nobody” makes a massive statement right from the drop and clearly demonstrates that these players are here to play, and they’re ready to take us all along on an incredibly ambitious journey in the process. In terms of a gateway into the EP, it’s pure perfection – everything about this track leaps out from your speakers, entices good times to be had by all, gets the blood flowin’ in your system, and gets you ready for more by Pascal Bokar…”The Blues Don’t Like Nobody” is completely refreshing to hear start this up.
Songs like “I Wanna See You In My Dreams” harken back to the golden-era of Soul/R&B…and in many ways, that becomes a great thing. The musicianship is pretty much off-the-charts cool throughout this entire lineup of songs for one, and that gets a better moment of clarity in the spotlight as this second track begins. The magnificent voice of Paula Harris joins Pascal once again, and she’s a steady & solid talent on the mic with a beautifully bold performance put into “I Wanna See You In My Dreams” as well. Ultimately, as musicians & artists & whatnot…we all have our strengths, and we all have spots where we can still evolve – if we choose to – and inside of the world of Jazz-anything, that’s a much tougher case to make with the avant-garde aspect often taking hold and the audience expected to somewhat just go with the flow and the sound of the song just being ‘how it’s supposed to be’ – whatever that may mean. But that ain’t me. I’m a firm believer in Jazz in the musicianship, and being all-pro when it comes to the microphone…without that recipe within this genre, I think you’re essentially always asking far beyond what the everyday listener can handle. For some that matters, for others it doesn’t – it really just depends on what’s got you making your music in the first place I suppose. Pascal can play – there’s zero doubt about that when you listen to this album. Pascal can sing too – though he’ll have some more questionable moments in this department along the way; the desire is clearly there, and that’s what’ll tend to keep you sticking with him and onboard as you listen. That being said, I’m sure he’d even recognize himself there’s a fair distance between what Paula can do versus what he can do when it comes to the vocals – and one kind of has to wonder what this track might have come out like if she had simply taken the reigns solo on the mic here…if that might have given it an overall more accessible sound in the end. As it stands they’ve kind of got a “Greatest Love Of All” type-feel to this track from the Whitney-era with a bit more spark to it…which I think will still end up making a positive impression on those out there that truly miss that style & sound and recognize how those comforting vibes don’t tend to be found as much these days. Solid keyboards in the mix to guide the melody – ultimately, it’s still a really well-written tune that’s very true to its ambitions. I’m not 100% sure they got the most out of it when it’s all said & done, but I do still enjoy what I’m hearing on “I Wanna See You In My Dreams” and this was the only track on the record that I felt could have used just 10% more polish than it has.
“I Can Tell” I’m gonna have fun when I listening to this tune – and “I Can Tell” that the vast majority of you will too. Pascal’s nearly gettin’ his James Brown on here – I’m not sure where you fit the Funk into this moniker he’s rockin’ with though…lemme try…AfrunkBlueGrazz? That work? Alright, it probably doesn’t quite have the same ring as AfroBlueGrazz does, so I better not play this game anymore and leave the man to his own creativity. All jokes aside – “I Can Tell” is gripping, straight-up, full-stop. Half of that reason is the pure energy on display that could easily power an entire village or city for a year – the other half is from the outstanding & stunningly flawless musicianship you’ll hear. I mean…look…I’m really not saying that “I Wanna See You In My Dreams” didn’t work – I think perhaps the dialing-back of this type of energy in between tracks one & three here might have been a bit of a risk though. Each time American Trails repeated, I was all about “The Blues Don’t Like Nobody” all over again, and each time “I Can Tell” sprang to life after the low-key moments of “I Wanna See You In My Dreams” beforehand, I couldn’t help but feel like these were the pivotal moments that create the addictive vibes we really wanna hear as listeners and have that intangible magic that keeps us coming back. “I Can Tell” becomes an incredible joy to listen to as it plays on – you can virtually FEEL how into it Bokar & his crew of ace studio-talents are, and that energy marvelously transfers straight to us while we’re listening. The solos in the finale in particular, provide a huge highlight in the depths of the instrumentation you’ll find on this record as well – all-in-all, I’d bet that “I Can Tell” is gonna be a favorite for most of you listening.
You can hear the influence of so many different artists throughout this record as you move from track to track and get a real sense of what Pascal would be listening to behind the scenes as a music-fan himself. In addition to the ones I’ve cited already, you’ll find him diving closer towards the legendary Barry White on “You Smile Inside My Nights” – and this tune brought out a ton of endearing charm from Bokar on the mic as he sings his way through it. It’s an interesting cut to listen to in the sense that you’re not going to find anything that doesn’t work necessarily, though it’s simple & smooth glide on the surface is easily revealed to have a ton of depth if you’re listening to all that creates it. The facts are, a song like “You Smile Inside My Nights” is likely about 1000x more busy that you’d likely realize it to be – an effect that is largely caused by the steady smoothness of Pascal’s vocals making it seem like the speed of this song is actually moving more slowly than it really is. Ultimately, that plays to his advantage here – it’d be hard to complain about much of the music he makes if you’re examining the sentiment & intentions – and tunes like “You Smile Inside My Nights” allow us all as listeners to dig on the sweetness he’s capable of creating. I’m not a massive fan of the bass-lines to this tune, but I’ll concede they’re pretty true to the style & sound and as well-played as anything else you’ll find on American Trails – but a bit dominant perhaps when it came to the mix in the end, outshining a couple other aspects that should likely get the bulk of the spotlight. Lyrically, this was one of my own personal favorites – I think Pascal’s got just the right dose of sweetness in his words here to go with the endearing & sincere way he sings “You Smile Inside My Nights.” I ain’t gonna lie, it’s got a bit of a lounge-act style of sound to it…you know, that Tony Bennett/Tom Jones type-thang goin’ on – I can’t imagine that wasn’t exactly what they were going for in the demeanor of this tune…but ultimately, it seems to fit Bokar & the crew really well.
I’m always going to advocate for variation, and Pascal shows plenty of it throughout this EP in six tunes. That being said, I feel like we’ve got a real case of four that belong together, and two that might have made more of an impact on a separate release; it is TOUGH for tracks like “I Wanna See You In My Dreams” and “You Smile Inside My Nights” to shine as bright as perhaps they should amongst the vibrant energy & all-out good-times you’ll find to be had on the other tunes surrounding them, certainly including “Let It Groove All Night Long.” Not only does that push/pull of energy potentially provide a bit of an obstacle in the cohesiveness, but if I’m just being real here – it’s the up-tempo vibes that are completely winning the war when it comes to this lineup altogether – this is what suits Bokar and the skillful players the most, and I’d assume it’s what we’re all hearing. It’s not that the slower jams don’t – it’s just a case of ‘not as much’ – you feel me? When you listen to how quickly everything snaps into place on a track like “Let It Groove All Night Long” and how this whole team has been captained to a successful victory through a unified front and genuine investment into every second making an impact – there’s a difference in the spark of interest between tracks like these and others, that’s just the reality. Personality that leaps from your speakers, charming sound from the lefts to the right, and an attitude & sound that makes you wanna stand up & cheer – that’s the wheelhouse of Pascal Bokar, and he lets that be known all throughout the way he & his band play “Let It Groove All Night Long.” I COULD “Let It Groove All Night Long” and I’d have no problems whatsoever in doing so – this track is fantastic and displays so much of what Bokar & company do best. From the impeccable instrumentation – like LISTEN to that solo around the two-minute mark will ya? – to the chorus-style background vocals fitting so perfectly…the banjo solo, the violin solo…you name it – everyone not only gets into the act here, but ends up showing that when the balance of strengths & energy get their due in Pascal’s music, this dude can’t help but make a lasting impression and put enough pep in your step for you to hit your FitBit goals.
These are the notes to go out on! “Everytime I See You There” was a straight-up wonderful conclusion to American Trails, and the number one song I’d point towards in this lineup that gets the most out of Pascal & the potential of his music. The instrumentation is magnificent, the vocals have got the JUICE, and the entire energy en masse throughout this song is wild, colorful, and a whole lotta FUN to listen to. Like I’ve been getting at…the more up-tempo you seem to find Pascal & the crew, the more engaging each experience seems to have been – “Everytime I See You There” exemplifies this point in every way. When you listen to this song…sure…you’re gonna hear fantastic musicianship – that’s a given at this point in the lineup & everything we’ve experienced so far – but what you’re also going to hear is commitment & dedication to the moment that is purely radiant. “Everything I See You There” delivers from start to finish, shuffling along quickly with its rhythm & groove, creating a wonderfully addictive wildness to it through the enormous level of passion on display that is every bit as gripping as the stellar instrumentation & diversity in sound you’ll hear as well. Part of me is well-inclined to say that Bokar has saved the very best for last here…I can’t comprehend anyone out there resisting the magnificent degree of spark & charisma this final song has – and if that’s not the kind of notes you wanna go out on, I’m not sure what would be. “Everytime I See You There” essentially ensures that anyone out there listening would instantly reach for a repeat of the American Trails EP – it’s powerfully vibrant, uniquely creative in its combos of style & sound, with a set-list that contains pure personality in the mix all the way through.
Listen to more music by Pascal Bokar at his official page at Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/artist/49yzEN3iCCTfpw9yrpCTqk