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Record collectors and DJs are fond of the term "spiritual jazz." Like most colloquialisms, its meaning is nebulous and vague; more emotional than factual, more indicative of a feeling that the music projects, as opposed to a distinct lineage or coterie of musicians. For many, the term refers to jazz that incorporates African and Middle Eastern rhythmic and harmonic concepts, the application of abstruse philosophies such as Egyptology, overt displays of religious devotion (both Christian and non-Christian), and strong ties to the Black Awareness movement. With A Love Supreme (Impulse!, 1965), John Coltrane created a sort of template for spiritual jazz, though the music of Albert Ayler, Pharoah Sanders, Alice Coltrane, and Sun Ra are no less important to its ethos. The term is a stylistic catch-all, and can refer to anything from free jazz to the creative funk-jazz of Norman Connors and Earth, Wind & Fire, to the so-called New Age music of artists such as Laraaji.
The current interest in this loosely-defined sub-genre has also led, partly, to the rediscovery and popularization of previously under-appreciated and little-known artists such as Phil Cohran, James Tatum, and Brother Ah in much the same way that the 60s blues boom in the UK led to the rediscovery of dozens of heretofore "lost" blues artists. Significantly, there are a growing number of younger jazz artists, such as Andrew Lamb, Franklin Kiermyer, Nat Birchall and Dwight Trible, working along these lines.
I mention all of this because the remarkable music of drummer / composer / educator Mark Lomax seems to be flying completely under the Spiritual Jazz radar. A native of Columbus, OH, Lomax has worked with Azar Lawrence, Billy Harper, and Delfeayo Marsalis and has led his own trios and quartets since 1999. Isis and Osiris, a follow-up to The State of Black America (Inarhyme Records, 2010), is a vibrant and utterly contemporary synthesis of post-modern jazz, Egyptology, and Black Awareness. With longtime musical associates Dean Hulett and Edwin Bayard, Lomax re-inhabits the spirit that made all those albums on Impulse!, Black Jazz, and Strata East such rewarding musical and intellectual experiences.
Conceived as a continuous suite, "Kemet" opens Isis and Osiris on a gentle, meditative note with bells, malleted toms and hand percussion framing Hulett's evocative arco bass. Throughout the album, Hulett plays an impressive variety of rhythmic, harmonic and melodic roles. His improvisations are not merely "bass solos," and cover the entire range of his instrument. About five minutes in, Bayard intones the piece's sinuous, exotic Middle Eastern sounding melody. Bayard is a big-toned, commanding player whose overall sound and approach sounds a bit like Odean Pope's: like Pope, Bayard clearly revels in the lower registers of his horn, leaping into the altissimo at crucial moments during his improvisations. Lomax is no less impressive. On "Kemet," he patiently lets the music develop at an unhurried pace, using his toms and cymbals melodically as he engages Hulett and Bayard in a musical conversation. By contrast, Lomax' careening fills and blazing pulse drive the trio into an ecstatic froth on the free-ish pieces "Isis" and "Chaos." The African-inspired "Osiris" features a wonderfully catchy melody and a fascinating drum / bass duet following in the wake of Bayard's eloquent solo. "Resurrection" is a joyful free-bop piece that closes Isis and Osiris on a friendly, exultant note.
One can only hope that Mark Lomax continues to create music in this vein. A multi-talented scholar and educator who holds a Doctorate in Music Arts from the Ohio State University, Lomax seems committed to his local scene. Even though New York City continues to be the hub of jazz activity, living and working in the sticks should not be an impediment to an artist with Lomax' skill set.
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