Never was it more obvious that Prince cared more about following his creative desire than what the public wanted than in 2002-2003 when he released a pair of instrumental albums six months apart. The second of those was N.E.W.S. The album consisted of four tracks: “North,” “East,” “West,” and “South.” Get it? N.E.W.S. Each song is exactly 14 minutes long. If there’s significance to 14 minutes or 56 minutes, I don’t know what it is. I know that Prince had an obsession with the number 7. Maybe he chose 14 because it’s 7×2. I really don’t know, but that’s probably as good a guess as any.
This was not Prince’s first immersion in to instrumental music. In the late-1980’s he formed a jazz/funk band called Madhouse with saxophonist Eric Leeds. Leeds also appears on N.E.W.S. and is featured heavily on today’s track, “East.” I view N.E.W.S. as Prince’s attempt at something like Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew. Loose. Highly improvisational. A lot of sounds you don’t necessarily expect to hear together. However, where Bitches Brew is a legendary album that expanded what people thought was possible musically, N.E.W.S. was just a pretty cool, enjoyable album by comparison.
When I listen to “East” or any song on this album, for that matter, I try to figure out if there’s significance to the direction or region in the song title. My initial thought was that on “East” he might be going for an east coast sound. I was probably limiting myself. If anything, he may be going for more of an Eastern Hemisphere or Far East sound. Even that might be a reach, though. Aside from a little bit of sitar work mid-song, there’s not much else to make this feel Far East-ish. The highlights of the song are the moments of pure funk with Leeds improvising sax solos.
“East” is an enjoyable track on a solid instrumental album. It was nominated for a Grammy in 2004. I wish it was available on vinyl because I would probably give it more serious listen. For some reason, when I’m listening to instrumental music – usually jazz – I’m at my turntable. There’s just a lot of jazz out there that I enjoy more than this album, so it’s not a go-to for me. Check back with me on this one when the Prince estate releases it on vinyl. Until then, I’ll give “East” 2 out of 5 stars.