FRIDAYSUPDATE- In on it: Jospé and Maxwell team up

Robert Jospé
Publicity Photo

For years now, Robert Jospé has been known as one of the leading voices in local jazz. That's ironic, in a way, since he hasn't actually had a vocalist all this time. His Inner Rhythm band has been largely the same for the last 15 years or so, he says, doing its well-traveled and worldly take on jazz strictly through instrumentals.

"In keeping with the identity of world music, Inner Rhythm draws on a lot of different styles– African, Afro-Cuban, R&B, straight-ahead, blues and Brazilian jazz," he says. And for years, that was the project in a nutshell– an unidentifiable hybrid that combines a dozen exotic pilis and macadamias, perhaps, but a nutshell nonetheless.

At the Afropop festival hosted by UVA in 2004, however, Jospé ran into singer Heather Maxwell, then at the tail end of a University residency, and he immediately began to reconsider.

"Heather is so rhythmically oriented and has spent so much time with African percussion instruments as well as with vocals that when I first met her, I felt like it had so much potential," he says. Later that year, they went into the studio together to work on Jospé's latest album, Heart Beat, and their performances around town have tended to involve one another ever since.

That includes this week's Fridays After Five show: "The collaboration with Heather is the focus," says Jospé. "Heather has had a big influence; the whole band takes on a different function when supporting a vocalist."

He's mostly referring to repertoire; Maxwell gave them the ability to perform more vocal jazz as well as conventional pop and R&B material, and her presence combined with the more accessible nature of the post-Heather tunes was one of the things that made the band so much more appealing as a Fridays act this time around. It's the first time Jospé has headlined in about 10 years.

But Maxwell didn't just up the pop appeal of Jospé's band– she also seized the opportunity to do the same to her own material. Inner Rhythm will also be performing a handful of her songs, which she says have been reworked to fit the Fridays crowd.

For starters, she's stopped singing in Swahili. And Portuguese. And French, and Spanish, and Bambara.

"People like it when I sing in those languages, and it's exciting and different, but after one or two songs, it just becomes an interesting sound or timbre," says Maxwell. "I do thrive on communicating, so hopefully now the new versions, being in English, can maximize that relationship.

"I think Jos is looking forward to that a little bit with his band as well," she adds.

Maybe so. He can still talk for hours about Afro-Cuban flavors in 12/8, but this time there's also a parallel conversation that practically anyone can follow.

Robert Jospé and Inner Rhythm perform at Fridays After Five on 6/13.