Where do I want to go in my Afro future? If I could (and I can), I’d travel to the Black Whole, and go on a sonic journey into the unknown. And that unknown is Black Whole, a five-piece, Afro-futuristic ensemble led by pianist Walter Kemp 3. Unlike his father’s classically-gospel Carnegie Hall acclaim, Kemp unleashes the same instrument and leads an equally creative cadre of music-making marvels; namely GRAMMY Award-winning improvisational violinist Scott Tixier, multi-reed maverick Brent Birckhead, bass phenom Rishon Odel, and Allan Mednard, a rock-solid percussive fixture with a keen ear for giving this music just what it needs at any given moment.
The ensemble’s rawness and ingenuity of sound has me replaying the ebb and flow of the evening– spinning back like a scratch on my most-loved cd. The ensemble got its start as a curated artist collaboration to celebrate the life and works of the late Reynold “Rey” Scott, acclaimed improvisational woodwind artist, composer, and long-time member of the Sun Ra Arkestra. The playlist is an amalgamation of the familiar, the foreign, and the freewheeling. But instead of the ever-popular Stella by Starlight, you’ll hear its lovesick paramour…”Interstellar,” and be transported to an unidentified planet of your own choosing.
Imagine waiting to hear what jazz was, is, or will be, and emerging with the sense of needing none of that. Just Blackness.
The first song of the evening is Walter Kemp 3’s “Good Morning.” As the title suggests, this song forces your arousal from a blissful fog. Imagine waiting to hear what jazz was, is, or will be, and emerging with the sense of needing none of that. Just Blackness. Kemp executes piano beats like a drummer and a harpist, laying sound templates like twinkling constellations in the dark, and mapping it out for me on an organ-laced triptych.
A selection called CO2, a duo written and performed by violinist Scott Tixier and NYC-based woodwind maverick Brent Birckhead, is an intense sound exchange. Reminiscent of a gut-wrenching zombie spacewalk, the sheer creativity makes you excited to hold your breath until the last note. This isn’t by any means a new exercise for the duo–but the combination is brilliant; fresh because we can never accurately predict where the music is going. I had to be content with hanging on for the ride.
Kemp leads “De Facto” in no uncertain terms. The 5-person unit locks tight, grabbing at the soulful fertility of the Earth below them, pretty much building their way from the sea floor to the ether– in a series of synchronized tonal movements. “Go-to” drummer Allan Mednard is a sonic boom of rhythmic syncopation, skillful stretch, and awesome. Wherever he’s taking me (and I’d go anywhere with him… yes, even there), I’m going. It’s no wonder why the composition was selected to premiere award-winning journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates’ literary debut at BABEL for The Water Dancer. I literally just did a flip, and landed mid- air.
Along with all of this, there are equally grounding moments. Bassist Rishon Odel, when not smooth sailing with Brian Culbertson, is doing the best/most with Black Whole, moving from double bass, to electric, to keybass with precision and purpose. Happy Ending, composed by New York City’s Gerry Eastman, and originally recorded by Eastman and Rey Scott, showcases Odel’s playful restraint. His incredible facility and command of the strings provide ocular proof of this precision, even when my ears are in denial. Hold on to the rocks, the weeds, and the misty air. Birckhead on flute is the perfect complement, so keep your ears peeled. If not, you’ll miss the flying diamonds. Just sayin.
Engaging with the music becomes a familiar process-- grounding, muddy, dirty, spontaneous and internally rehearsed.
There’s a special place in a performance like this for the audience, and that special place is right there in the thick of things; sorting out songs, and making connections. I felt like a kid helping to make mud pies to heaven. Engaging with the music becomes a familiar process– grounding, muddy, dirty, spontaneous and internally rehearsed. At this point, we’re enveloped in the velveteen mudcloth blackness of what we think we heard and what we wanted to hear, and finally arriving at the fact that we’re not exactly sure, and it never really mattered anyway.
So, this June, where will I be in my Afro-future? I’ll be at these concerts. And your Afro-future should be there, too.
- Tuesday, June 14th, 5:30pm | Richmond, VA RVA Tobacco Lounge
- Wednesday, June 15th, 7:00pm | New York, NY Zürcher Gallery (during TRIBECA Film Fest)
- Friday & Saturday, June 17-18th, 7:00pm | Buffalo, NY PAUSA Art House
- Wednesday, June 22, 7:00pm | West Falls, NY West Falls Center for the Arts
- Thursday, June 23, 7:00pm | Cleveland, OH Bopstop (during TRI-C Jazz Fest)
- Friday, June 24, 8:30 & 10:00pm | Toronto, ON The Rex (during Toronto Jazz Fest)