He has laid out this approach on a pair of releases, 2012's grandiosely titled Meditations On Afrocentrism and its followup, Love Songs. These EPs massaged a range of samples into slick variations on footwork and downtempo electronica. They showed impressive technical skills and a strong pop sensibility, but Fairhurst's tuneful style often felt like it was watering down his source material rather than revelling in its flavours. There is also, of course, the question of credentials. Bearden (his namesake) made figurative art at a time when detached abstraction ruled the US art world, in an attempt to reflect his lived experience—that of a black person in America. It's not so much that Fairhurst isn't allowed to join this cultural discussion (that debate is a complex one, and at least as old as Elvis), but it's reasonable to ask what he has to add to it. Judging by Projections—named after a landmark 1964 Bearden exhibition—the answer is not very much at all.
Granted, Fairhurst's productions are sounding smoother and more sophisticated than ever. His mellow guitar licks and featherlight grooves follow meandering paths, their builds and cushioned impacts outlining quiet dramas of tension and release. But there seems to be a disconnect between the tone and the message. "Work Song" invokes a musical style born out of the grueling physical labour of slavery; Fairhurst's synth chords and languid breakbeat feel placid and carefree. "Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child" refers to the practice of slave children being sold away from their parents; Romare's version ends in a jubilant chorus of saxophone and flute, as if he simply hasn't been listening to the words he's framing. And in a decade where one in three black American men can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, the pleasant jazz-house of "Prison Blues" feels jarring.
Of course, it's possible to approach Projections without its conceptual baggage, and it's not without redeeming moments. Fairhurst benefits from taking a few risks with his samples, as in "Lover Man," which transforms what sounds like a funk break into a slouching ode to lust, all oily chords and blunted guitar mewls. Elsewhere he turns his hand, successfully, to house: with its crisp disco clip and mooching bassline, "Rainbow" isn't miles away from one of Andrés' deep house gems, though it all gets a bit twee in the breakdown. Without its academic trappings, Projections starts to grate, with its middle-of-the-road niceness and mood of tepid celebration. With them, it's borderline offensive.