In ‘The 7th Hand,’ Immanuel Wilkins sees Jazz as an Escape Pod

Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and his quartet create vibrant, physical pieces that both rely on and pull in the swing rhythms that have historically been the backbone of jazz music. There’s a certain sensibility to the classic swing, an element that helps you make the most of time you don’t seem to be at home amid the hamster-wheel feel of today’s life. Wilkins wisely left that part behind in favor of a layered, bursting grid approach.

However, it is not difficult to understand that this is blues-based music, conveyed from the gospel, considered intellectual, from concept to creation. All of that qualifies it as part of the jazz tradition (sorry four letter word).

But it’s much harder to pin down the major influences of his saxophone than to locate him within a broad lineage – which is indicative of how widely Wilkins, 24, has listened. Right after Blue Note Records released his debut album, “Omega,” in 2020, I found myself swarming with that question: Whose playing has cast the biggest shadow on Wilkins? Compare with legends like Jackie McLean or contemporaries like Logan Richardson feels unsettled. It was J.D. Allen, a saxophonist a generation ahead of Wilkins who solved the puzzle, in a conversation that summer: As he listened to Wilkins, he said, James Spaulding was thinking. It makes sense on several levels.

One of the key supporting actors in jazz history, Spaulding made regular appearances on classic Blue Note albums in the early ’60s. But he also made time to play rougher stuff, regardless more often with Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra, Billy Bang and others. Skating with the temperature scale, Spaulding, now 84, can blow zigzag, zigzag lines at thousands of notes a minute, or pause to jerk a note from multiple directions. These are the shoes Wilkins wears.

But he also established himself as a composer, to a degree Spaulding never did, and within a few years, his quartet – with Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass and Kweku Sumbry on drums – has become a band members of the younger generation can measure the ideas against their own.

“The 7th Hand,” Wilkins’ newly released sophomore album, confirms the quartet’s commanding position on the scene. Another collection of all the originals, it’s also as relentless as “Omega”. On tunes like “Don’t Break” and “Shadow,” Wilkins and Thomas play loosely locked tunes in unison, shifting and breaking the keys, tilting and rocking the harmonic cascade beneath them. Moving like that, Wilkins can switch registers of emotions, even genres, with the flick of a wrist: A simple blues tune turns into what sounds like a soul-pulling line of the heart. , then moved on to something undeniably jazz.

“Don’t Break” includes a cameo from Farafina Kan percussion group (which Sumbry often performed), weaves his West African hand percussion into the quartet’s flow and demonstrates that Wilkins’ progressive rhythm remains easily connected to its roots. Other album guest artist, troubadour Elena Pinderhughesimpresses with her fighting tracks, “Witness” and “Lighthouse”, with her soaring and powerful sound, those who have heard her will immediately recognize her. Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s recent group. Throughout the album, Thomas’s brilliant presence across the entire keyboard gives the quartet plenty of depth; He’s on his way Become a famous bandleader in his own right.

Wilkins has said that with “The 7th Hand” he is looking for nothing more than a spiritual transmission – to make himself and the quartet a “vessel” for the divine, in the Mahalia way. Jackson, John or Alice Coltrane. According to the Bible, the number seven symbolizes the completion and limitation of human effort: On the seventh day we rest. The album’s seventh and final track is a 26-minute freehand improvisation titled “Lift,” which Wilkins sees as an opportunity to organize his own map and let the spirit continue. manage. The quartet settles the sound of the group’s skillfully woven, alertness into something wide open, achieving a kind of escape. Thomas and Sumbry sometimes sound like the free jazz pioneers Cecil Taylor and Sunny Murray are pursuing; Elsewhere, Wilkins and the drummer collide with the destructive power of John Coltrane and Elvin Jones.

Wilkins’ idea of ​​using this album as a means of transcendence – escaping the body and disappearing into the sound – was not just about adoration. In interviews, he quoted Contemporary theorists such as Arthur Jafa with providing important inspiration and he talks about finding an aesthetic of abstention: from being tracked, from being put in commercial bins. It aligns with the currents of radical black thinking today, led by figures like Jafa and Fred Moten. In “Glitch Feminism,” published in 2020, Legacy writer and manager Russell suggests rethinking our entire relationship with the human body—a place filled with labels and attachments. “The glitch,” she says, is where we can refuse to embrace and accept “rejection.”

“The 7th Hand” can be heard in a similar way. In her liner notesPoet Harmony Holiday calls the album “the sound of turning our backs on ourselves, about how abandonment can be orchestrated into deliverance with a series of adventures tailored to our needs.” fusion and a beat to unpack them”.

Immanuel Wilkins
“The 7th Hand”
(Note in blue) In ‘The 7th Hand,’ Immanuel Wilkins sees Jazz as an Escape Pod

Fry Electronics Team

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