The COVID-19 pandemic required people to isolate themselves from one another. Even once able to go out and about, it was prudent to wear masks over the mouth and nose in order to prevent and protect from potential infection. Masks themselves evolved quickly from necessity to accessory for many people, as design began to accentuate the other features, most prominently the eyes.
Vocalist, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Francis Jacob watched this adaptation of the plain paper mask to fashionable object with keen attention. He was especially interested in how peoples’ eyes began to catch his own. Inspired by this, Jacob began to write music for this project, I’ll Just Trust Your Eyes, a collection of pieces capturing the composer’s enchanted ocular observations over jazz inflected, West African rhythm driven tunes.
For years, the Grammy-nominated Jacob has been a regular fixture on the Brooklyn singer/songwriter and world music scenes. His compositional and instrumental work can be heard on releases by Gretchen Parlato, Grégoire Maret, and his sister, Irene Jacob. One of the well-known ensembles that Jacob fronts is BrasBrook, a group that takes the beloved tunes of French songwriter Georges Brassens and adapts them to a Nigerian Afrobeat flavor. Having studied and performed with African musicians for decades, West African rhythms and styles have become a natural extension of Jacob’s compositional vocabulary.
The pandemic interfered with people’s interactions with one another in numerous ways. One of them was the casual smile or other facial gestures because of the veil of masks. It wasn’t long before Jacob was triggered by the seductiveness of women’s eyes, which seemed especially enhanced by the addition of masks. He was so inspired that he wrote the title tune, “I’ll Just Trust Your Eyes.”
During the summer of 2020, Jacob began to attend regular rehearsals and performances at Open Source Brooklyn, an arts based non-profit organization that hosts a loose association of local songwriters, who would come together weekly to play each other’s songs in a socially distanced setting. Jacob brought “I’ll Just Trust Your Eyes” to a rehearsal and figured why not write more tunes based around the subject. The development and rehearsal led to seven compositions that focused on different aspects of the eyes, from color to more abstract features.
Once he had the pieces together, Jacob assembled the members of BrasBrook, keyboardist ATN Stadwijk, bassist Mamadou Ba, conga player Aja Olusegun, and drummer Thierry Arpino. The group rehearsed and had a performance at Open Source before going into Jacob’s home studio to record I’ll Just Trust Your Eyes in a single day. The musicians were crucial to the success of the music, especially the complex interplay of the percussionist and the rhythm section.
The program begins with the catchy “The Two Black Holes of Your Two Black Eyes,” a Afrobeat infused tune that catches the attention with the added drive of Alioune Faye’s djembe and searing guitar from the leader. The laid-back reggae beat of “Green Eyes” is in a unique 6/4 metered groove. The meditative “Wild Grey Eyes” utilizes a hypnotizing, traditional 6/8 West African ballad time signature. The jazz influenced “The Color of Your Gaze” is built on a melodic motif inspired by the fusion work of late great fusion master, Chick Corea. “The Depth of Your Blue Eyes” is a reinterpretation of one of Jacob’s older pieces, done here as a lilting, low key waltz. Harmonica master Gregoire Maret guests on the subdued but upbeat “The Music of Your Eyes.” The recording concludes with the title tune; this ambitious piece is rhythmically adventurous and irresistible.
During the composition and rehearsal process, Jacob woke up with a vision for the project that would include playing in Prospect Park and making videos of the performances. Two days after the recording, the band did just that. Musicians at the time had no place to play, so bringing the music outside was good for them and the public. Jacob also asked women in the audience if they would be willing to have their picture taken, thus gathering a gallery of tantalizing eyes that are included with the recording.
The unique adaptation of one-on-one interaction with the majority of the face being covered has heightened the magnetism and expressiveness of the eyes. The effect of this inspired Francis Jacob to write the dynamic and diverse collection of tunes, I’ll Just Trust Your Eyes.
released November 5, 2021
Francis Jacob - vocals & guitar
ATN Stadwijk - keyboards
Mamadou Ba - electric bass
Aja Olusegun - congas
Thierry Arpino - drums
Gregoire Märet - harmonica (6)
Alioune Faye - djembe (1-3)
Pauline Jacob - background vocals (2, 4)
supported by 5 fans who also own “I'll Just Trust Your Eyes”
Adventurous hybrid jazz at its best. I struggle to describe why this stands out above a crowd, but... It all sounds so precise. Every instrument fills its own space so that, as busy as it gets, it never feels crowded. It breathes easy while full of energy. In case I'm not making sense, this, in short, is brilliant. Added bonus that the vocal track doesn't stand out negatively as those too often do on otherwise instrumental albums. Heavy rotation, and the best jazz-related album of 2022. rvss.eel