If You Thought Kamasi Washington Got Cosmic, Wait 'Til You Hear Cameron Graves
The exact origins of The Urantia Book remain enveloped in mystery, but this much is certain. In the early 20th century, a pair of respected Chicago physicians and committed skeptics, William and Lena Sadler, received contact from a neighbor whose husband — allegedly a “hard-boiled businessman” — plunged into a somnambulant trance state every night, where he was unconsciously possessed by spiritual beings.
Over the course of 250 nocturnal sessions, the Sadlers and a stenographer received the labyrinthine transmissions that became The Urantia Book — a 2,000-page esoteric bible that presents an alternate history of the creation of the earth, the life of Jesus and the future of humanity.
Whether you accept it as divine revelation or not, you can’t deny the fertility of the tome’s imagination. Revered by Jimi Hendrix, Jerry Garcia and Jaco Pastorius alike, it makes Game of Thrones look like Chutes & Ladders.
This much also is certain: A century later, jazz pianist Cameron Graves, founding member of The West Coast Get Down, has an album called Planetary Prince, whose titular and extraterrestrial inspiration comes from that abstruse text.
“It’ll have you skeptical until you read it, and then start to wonder whether the universe is really that way or whether it’s just a made-up story?” Graves says.
“It’s inspired me in so many ways. I often write in seven time because it’s a really important number in the universe,” he continues. “Take a song like ‘Adam and Eve’: The A side is really emotional, and the B section offers release. It’s a yin-and-yang thing. The yin is Eve, the yang is Adam.”
If this sounds like metaphysical mumbo jumbo, I’ll refer you to the music, which offers a clarity that words often can’t provide. In all aspects of his being, Graves embodies intense seeking and absurd skill. He’s backed Jada Pinkett Smith and jazz icon Stanley Clarke. He’s a master of the martial art Xing Yi Quan, studies Daoism and practices daily standing meditation.
“Chi energy is an amazing thing, and you’ll only know it if you feel it and walk with it every day,” the Van Nuys native says. “It’s the driving force behind me waking up and doing everything. I haven’t felt tired for a long time. I can stay up for two days at a clip.”
Graves wears a black T-shirt, a skull ring and a cross necklace topped with a silver eagle, his long, wavy black hair tied back. If he looks slightly metal, it’s reflective of his lifelong obsession with the genre.
Even if you don’t immediately recognize his name, you’ve likely heard his notes. The son of ’70s soul singer Carl Graves, he’s been playing piano since kindergarten. At Hamilton High’s music academy, he formed a band with classmates Kamasi Washington and Miles Mosley, teaming up with Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner and Ronald Bruner at Locke High for after-school sessions with legendary educator Reggie Andrews.
Much of Planetary Prince was first recorded at the now-mythologized “KSL sessions” that yielded Washington’s The Epic. It comes off somewhere between McCoy Tyner and The Time, Chopin and J Dilla — with an extra layer of mystic clashes between celestial princes of good and evil. It’s the score that Urantia always deserved.
“I’m trying to bring music back to the time where virtuosos are celebrities again,” Graves says. “I want to educate the ears of the listener and change their palates to where I can use nontraditional jazz changes and scales and still speak to their soul. So that the music makes you feel like an acid trip without being on acid.”
CAMERON GRAVES & THE WEST COAST GET DOWN | The Troubadour | 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood | Thu., March 16, 9 p.m. | $20 | troubadour.com
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