Click image to hear Mark's interview on Confluence Cast

Click image to hear Mark's interview on Confluence Cast


by Richard Sanford (posted 6/28/17)

There's an adage that a player can make an instrument sing but it takes an artist to make it speak. On Mark Lomax, II's new collaboration with four of Columbus' finest poets- Dionne Custer Edwards, Barbara Fant, Carnell Willoughby, and Scott Woods- Drumversations, he takes that adage to a new literal level and a new artistic space. Continue reading below the jump for our review of this remarkable record and a trailer provided by Lomax.

Drumversations is one of the finest examples of blending the human voice and the drum in duet. The words never prop up the drums here and the drums are never solely accompaniment. Lomax again asserts himself as our finest working composer. He builds percussive soundscapes that could stand on their own while always trusting the words of the poets to stand on their own as well. These two elements tease out the best in one another, challenge, fill their spaces and explode them to reveal new spaces.

The arc of the album masterfully slips from the interior to the exterior and knows they're never truly separate. It begins and ends with "Bless In" and "Bless Out" with Carnell Willoughby (best known as a member of the pioneering Columbus hip-hop collective S.P.I.R.I.T.). These two incantations, opening with "Hands people. Stand people. Respond to my command, people," build into statements of purpose. Willoughby speak-sings advice for living and hte quest for collective transcendence as Lomax builds the raw elements of drumming - one stick, one cymbal - into a delicate but ferocious, loose-limbed backbeat.

"Bless In" is followed immediately by what Barbara Fant calls "A celebration of Black and brown people," "Magic Before." Fant interrogates the use of "magic" to exoticize and dehumanize while asserting a humanity and a superhuman strength. Her metaphors and rich rhythm slip over and through Lomax's sparse drumming. He creates rumbling, tectonic shifts of toms and splashing, slashing cymbals beneath Fant's "Teaching the moon to dance and bid her dust in the shape of an eye" and unleashes a tumbling procession around and over and under her inversion of the dozens into affirmation. Fant's other piece, "House of Dust" talks of living "in the staccato" as Lomax's drums echo and subvert that word. Together, they peel back the raw flesh of life and find a bitterly-fought and hard-won forgiveness at the heart of living well.

Dionne Custer Edwards' two piece feature wider swaths of negative space for Lomax to stretch out. Lomax takes us through the history of great drumming in these lustrous solos, reminding me more of Milford Graves than I've heard in his playing before. Edwards has a Baraka-esque love of repetition, luxuriating in the sensuous feeling of words while exposing every facet of meaning without ever being obvious. The heartbreaking "Skyward" wrings every ounce of pain from simple phrases like "We collect ourselves" and "do something about this tangled mess."

Scott Woods' two pieces are the centerpiece of Drumversations. The first, "A Bad Peace," includes a "Part 1" solo track from Lomax who splinters a slow march and makes it shine like stained glass. Less of an intro and more of a thesis statement. By the time Scott's voice appears for "Part 2," the complicated groundwork has been laid for the interrogation of the Benjamin Franklin - "May I call you Ben?" - "truism" "There never was a good war or a bad peace." Woods' vivisection of conventional wisdom and "good intentions," opens with "What if your peace is a war?" and never lets the throttle down. "A 'some of my best friends are good wars' peace?"

The recorded-with-a-live-audience elements only assert themselves a few times on this beautifully produced (by Lomax) and mastered (Storm 9000) [recording]. The exceptions are striking. My favorite is a spontaneous moment featuring one woman, clear as day, cheering Woods on and then one person clapping before falling back into silence. It's a demonstration of loud and quiet engagement reminding the stodgier among us that both sides of the same respect. That moment makes the listener want to throw their fists in the air because we've all been that person when the right poet reads.

When I interviewed Woods about his month-long Holler project he brought up the premier of the "A Bad Peace" collaboration in the context of his renowned artistic risk-taking. "I wanted to prove I could get people in the door for a show with one composition and one poem and have them leave satisfied. But it had to be the best poem I wrote all year." For a poet who has been making my jaw drop for about 15 years at this point, and who had a huge part in the current flowering of local poetry, Woods succeded here in spades. His two poems, the acid "What You Smiling For?" is a more typical duet with Lomax's most sinuous and sinister drumming on this record, might be the best documentation of his work.

There isn't a bad track on Drumversations. It's a brilliant introduction to Lomax's compositions and percussion in its purest sense and a sampler of the range of poetic voices Columbus is lucky to host.

Click on image for more information!

Click on image for more information!

Blues In August review in JazzColumbus by Andrew Patton

I had a fantastic Jazz Night Out when I saw the Mark Lomax Septet play the Garden Theatre on Wednesday the 17th. The concert marked the premiere of Dr. Lomax’s new composition Blues In August, created in conjunction with the Short North Stage’s August Wilson festival. A celebrated composer orchestrating the meeting of an intimately acquainted jazz trio and an accomplished string quartet set the stage for endless possibilities, and the resulting collaboration realized an exciting sonic universe. Lomax opened the first movement with a mallet solo on the drum set where he brought spiritual melodies to life, and saxophonist Eddie Bayard later played a soulful solo that combined with the string section’s accompaniment for a stirring passage.

It was great to see bassist Dean Hulett back in town from San Diego, as his playing was broad, passionate, and often humorous, especially when trading bars with Lomax before the drummer performed his own comedic act of “clumsy” drumstick handling. Violinist Andy Carlson’s leading role in gypsy jazz outfit SpeakEasy shone through in several places, especially on a rootsy swinging solo of his own. The hour-long suite had plentiful thrilling moments, but my personal favorite was likely the string quartet plucking their instruments in the final movement, creating an ethereal “raindrop” effect while Bayard conjured a deep, dark sky with his artful blowing. This was a performance not to be missed. Lomax christened the group the “Urban Art Ensemble” after the concert – hopefully the septet returns to a local stage soon!

Click on image for more information!

Click on image for more information!

Locals: Ancient cosmology inspires Mark Lomax’s “Song of the Dogon”

From the June 2, 2016 edition

If you’ve ever craned your neck toward the sky on a clear night, you’ve likely seen Sirius, the brightest star. Actually, it’s a pair of stars — Sirius A and Sirius B — but without a telescope, it looks like a single, glowing dot.

And yet, somehow the Dogon people, an ancient civilization that now resides in Mali, reportedly knew about Sirius B long before they had access to telescopic technology.

Jazz drummer Mark Lomax, who holds a doctor of music arts degree from Ohio State, has been researching the Dogon for the last few years, so when the Wexner Center asked him to write a new piece to perform, he took inspiration from the cosmology and spirituality of that ancient culture to create “Song of the Dogon,” a seven-movement suite he’ll perform as a trio with saxophonist Edwin Bayard and pianist Dr. William Menefield on Friday, June 3. (The performance also doubles as a release show for Lomax’s two new albums, Blues People and The Art of Sound.)

“[The Dogon] didn’t keep records like Western culture does with books. It was passed down orally, but it’s very specific the way they do it — how the integrity of the wisdom system has been maintained for thousands of years,” Lomax said. “They’re not materialistically wealthy from a Western perspective; you see abject poverty. And yet they have this very profound system of knowledge that guides their daily lives and all their interactions.”

In the same way the Dogon people reflect their belief system in every aspect of their lives, from building homes to filling a bucket of water, the music Lomax creates is full of purpose. Lomax, who previously worked with the Boys and Girls Clubs of Columbus and is now a community research and grants management officer at the Columbus Foundation, is “vehemently against” art for art’s sake.

“My work, from my very first album when I was 19, is about optimizing human potential through narrative that’s specific to the African and African-American experience,” Lomax said, “because I think by telling our stories, not only do we learn more about each other, but we come to see each other as more human. … I hope the work we do is one that helps people turn within themselves and ask questions to make them better people. Everything you do should have that purpose in it.”

In writing “Song of the Dogon,” Lomax investigated recordings of traditional Dogon music. “I sat with that and learned a lot in terms of how they understand rhythm and melody,” said Lomax, who’s never been comfortable with the idea that a drummer should be a metronome. “For 20 years as a drummer, I’ve been trying to achieve a rhythmic expression that flows but doesn’t feel like a clock. Growing up playing funk and gospel, your job is to be a clock, which is why I stopped playing that music. It never felt natural to me. In listening to the Dogon and other traditional music, I heard a rhythmic sensibility that matched the innate sense I have as a drummer.”

Lomax will record “Song of the Dogon” later this month, but it likely won’t see release until 2019, when he plans to release 12 albums to commemorate 400 years of African-American survival in North America. Over the span of a dozen records, possibly packaged as a box set with accompanying essays, Lomax hopes to “tell the story of who we are and offer something for what we could be,” he said. “If we don’t tell our stories, who will?”