Mark Lomax's "The State of Black America", with liner notes by Bill Banfield, encapsulates the historical and universal struggle for self-actualization. In the interactive saxophone trio format, the band illuminates new corners in modern jazz.
A Love Letter for this Music:
James Baldwin said it best in a 1962 interview. “Artists are here to shake people up, to disturb the peace.” He was talking about the need to... to make us aware of the burning issues of American society, especially of those of race and class.” But, I want to push Baldwin a bit further here by arguing that we are called upon to be artists. As students, teachers, composers, performers, observers of nature, as citizens of the larger world, we all have to be dedicated to disturbing the false peace of complacency, of the status quo, of looking for and listening for only this expected, predictable surfaces of music and life.” -Walter Harp, a teacher of history and sociology and a lover of music.
This liner note is a “Love Letter “about a new recording you are listening to, entitled, The State of Black America, by composer, drummer, band leader Mark Lomax and his very musical trio. The album is about art expression and about music and life. And what sweet music and what rich life! These comments I wrote as I listened the first time, although once I listened I never stopped hearing this record and allowing myself to hear it over and over and over again, and more deeply. It’s just that good and continues at each listen to reveal itself in new ways. When I sat to listen I was blown off my chair. This is a 'kick tail record project.’ Perhaps getting hit by meaning and beauty is the state we hope all America could be in, but if Black music could do this again in the world it would begin here.
“(Stuck in a Rut),” when title is applied to this piece is an oxymoron, because it’s nowhere near stuck in a Rut. As a matter of fact, it is a route out to a better out. It’s expressive, it’s moving playing and it’s crafted free improvisations. It’s got personality and is not lost in a post poor generational copy of Ornette, Mingus, Blackwell, or Ayler.
I’d walk twenty miles in the snow or heat, or drenching rain to get to some Blues that sounds like this!! (Blues For Charles) Because it’s calling, it’s telling me a story I need to hear, and this Blues sounds like somebody already heard me, what I was needing to be said to me, and when I get there, there’s a hand extended to shake. Largely the saxophonist, Edwin Bayard, beautifully and deeply tells the story. He's deep into Sonny Rollins, John Gilmore and Eddie Harris, but can play you the history of the horn from Hawk to Branford. He definitely shakes a few notes toward Joshua Redman and gets a noteworthy glance from both Ornette and Coltrane beyond. Yet he delivers that long sax legacy back in his own original and fresh way.
The trio works exceptionally well as a unit. Lomax, the leader/composer, never overstates his role or abuses his power as a drummer. As a matter of fact the drums are “the disciplined role model” throughout, never dislodging its role to guide and gracefully lead.
Even the ballad (The Unknown Self) which opens uncharacteristically odd and original with a drum solo, underpins the artist- lead drummer Lomax takes. As a melodic drum sequence melts into an emotional ritard with a small “gong” entrance, like Max would have loved, he has given us here the first glimpse of the lead melodic line and what a surprise as it lays lovely into a ballad. If you can’t hear a lyrical Mingus in this following bass solo, by Dean Hulett you aren’t listening yet! A lovely return of the principal theme in the sax lets us know the trio is masterfully aware of form. This is simply a gorgeous musical performance.
Leader Lomax states it this way, "To Know God Is To Know Thyself," speaks to my belief that every path to one’s essence leads one to the source of that self.” In this characteristically Black music ontological way, that is wrestling with the angels and the devils and signing songs that try and untangle that tart in life, and finding wholeness in the journey, path to peace.
(To Know God ) is simply a rebellion, rituals and release, that leaves me gasping for air and wanting to be more suffocated in this explosion all at once. It opens with “big sound.” The trio again makes you happily chase this for meanings, and in the end after 9 minutes, with an incredibly well placed lead again, a drum solo, we are tastefully ended and you find it. Lovely resolve. Definitely echoes of Coltrane reminding us it ain't quite over yet! I love this piece.
(The Power of Knowing) sounds like a poetically performed reading of a poem by the saxophonist and the ensemble in true Black call and response-ity. It demands we engage in the dialogue. A powerful piece. The “drum sounds” and bass soli in the middle of the piece is another great moment at about 5:50, then enters sax for a funky blues-y minimalistic riff, call and response. Very way cool! That melodic antiphonal harmonic scalar- ascend sequence, between the bass and the sax which ended in a rhythmic pattern game with the drums beginning at 9:35 and ending at about 11:20, is worth counting the seconds, watching and waiting, cueing it back again to hear every time. It is purely musical candy. A genius -playing moment and rare to hear this all so raw and so deliciously placed at once. It ends soooo tastefully.
This album is the kind of piece we’d hope for, that continues and draws from the best of the great creative jazz traditions that re-defined jazz, sound artistry and definitions of new music.
I’m glad Mark and his ensemble did not give into the temptation to simply drop this into a hip hop beat stance to connect with the art slow-pokes of the market moment who never listened to anything earlier than Run DMC. Better yet it never falls into falling for the new industry constructed and constricted, ” we play jazz because we wear ties to follow the appointed leaders and stay hungry in New York group.”
This music is from the Midwest. It’s a Big bold adventurous sound with personality, integrity, soul and “follow me because we love playing and giving music.”
Bill Banfield, Boston, MA