400: AN AFRIKAN EPIC, PART 3 – AFRO-FUTURISM: THE RETURN TO UHURU / all music by Dr. Mark Lomax
CD 9: TALES OF THE BLACK EXPERIENCE: 20 YEARS / Afrika. The Coast of Afrika. Middle Passage. Slavery in the New World. Visions of Freedom. Emancipation. The Hunt. Transcendence. Rapture / Mark Lomax, dm; Edwin Bayard, t-sax; William Menefield, pno; Dean Hulett, bs
CD 10: ANKH & THE TREE OF LIFE / Ankh. The Tree of Life / as above, but omit Menefield
CD 11: SPIRITS OF THE EGUNGUN / Spirits I. Spirits II. Spirits III. Spirits IV / The Ogún Meji Duo: Bayard & Lomax
CD 12: AFRIKA UNITED / Ma’at. Trust. United. Power / Percussion Ensemble / self-issued CDs, available for ordering at https://marklomaxii.com/400-an-afrikan-epic
This last section of Dr. Mark Lomax II’s 12-CD suite is titled Afro-Futurism: The Return to Uhuru. The first CD in this set, Tales of the Black Experience, takes a Sankofan perspective of Afrikan history. The second, Ankh & the Tree of Life, chronicles culturally relevant spiritual belief systems. Spirits of the Egungun covers the spiritual, cultural, and political return to Self while Afrika United, played by a percussion ensemble as was the first disc in this series, he describes as “paramount to becoming…again.”
Tales of the Black Experience begins with the drums, simple at first but becoming increasingly more complex. When the piano enters, at the beginning of the second piece, The Coast of Afrika, the tempo picks up and we are in jazz-land. The music is more fierce than really joyous, however, as Menefield attacks the keys as if he were hitting them with mallets and Lomax’s drums crash mightily behind him. Once again, the music tips its hat to John Coltrane in so many ways, not least in saxist Bayard’s use of “sheets of sound” at one point. Hulett also takes an excellent bass solo, which ends the track; Middle Passage, which is all chaos and atonality, then follows with Bayard screaming on his tenor and Menefield playing wild, almost chaotic figures in the background. Later, one hears a coarse, rasping sound, possibly produced by the bass.
Slavery in the New World opens with piano tremolos over the bass and drums, out of tempo, as the tenor sax makes a strong statement in the foreground, mostly of long-held notes. The music then picks up in tempo but remains rhythmically uncertain, as if the group had no grounding. With Visions of Freedom, however, we get a joyous uptempo swinger with the quartet in fine form, propelling the music like one of the premier swing quartets of the early 1950s. Emancipation keeps up the jolly mood at an even faster tempo, the harmony now shifting from minor to major. As this piece ends with a bass solo, so does The Hunt begin with one, at a slower tempo, in D. For the most part, this album comes across more as a jam session than most of the preceding discs. Both Transcendence and Rapture are exciting pieces, mostly improvised and well-played by all.
The next disc, Ankh & the Tree of Life, reduces the quartet to a trio. Like Up South, which also featured the trio, it is divided into only two bands, but here the music does sound more composed and less purely improvised. The opening of Ankh starts with plucked bass, then the tenor sax and drums enter in an out-of-tempo introduction. At 4:20 we finally move into what one could describe as a forward-moving rhythm, but not a regular pulse by any means, as the music becomes edgier and more energetic. Then, at 5:22, we finally reach a regular uptempo 4/4 pulse played by the rhythm as Bayard plays unusual lines over it; later on, he plays anguished, “outside” jazz as the rhythm again becomes chaotic. Hulett plays equally edgy bowed figures in the extreme upper range of his bass before moving into plucked playing. Around 11:17 we move into a calypso beat, played by bass and drums, followed by a really neat drum solo by Lomax (including his tuned drums). The calypso-type beat then resumes, with Hulett again playing bowed bass and Bayard improvising simple but effective melodic lines on top. The trio takes turns improvising, either singly or as a unit, through the rest of the track. At the end there is laughter, and someone (Lomax?) says, “That feels like a whole suite!”
Tree of Life begins with a gong, Hulett playing whiny tones on his bass, and Bayard playing breathy, slow notes, all of which create a weird effect. This unusual atmosphere continues for some time, then Hulett plays plucked notes while Lomax bangs on what sounds like a can for a while. At 3:52 we move into a jazz waltz tempo, with Bayard playing sporadic notes at first before the music becomes more rhythmically complex, with Bayard’s sax playing against the set rhythm rather than with it, later moving into atonal squeals before returning to more normal notes. He then moves into a drone as Hulett plays outside figures in his upper register and Lomax creates wild double-time figures behind them. Middle Eastern harmonies then enter the picture as the bass holds a drone in the background and Bayard improvises in the foreground. We then fade out for the ending.
On the last CD we return to the percussion ensemble that played in the first. This one is called Afrika United. Good luck with that; when I was in college, as a history minor, I studied with a Kenyan who described in full detail the tribal mentality of all African nations and how they simply didn’t get along with each other, but hey, I guess it’s as good a dream as is a global society. For me, the most interesting pieces were the second and third, which weren’t as consistently driving as the others and had greater variety in their rhythm and backbeats.
Thus we reach the end of Mark Lomax II’s remarkable and diverse “jazzical” suite, which has a great many strengths and only a few weak moments. This is clearly a remarkable achievement by any means, and I highly recommend the entire set.
—© 2019 Lynn René Bayley
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