That we are free to think saxophone firebrand Immanuel Wilkins' 2020 Blue Note debut Omega served as a sign of hope amid a particularly hopeless year puts an awful lot of weight on the shoulders of a 25-year-old and, beyond doubt, colors the fate of The 7th Hand. Humbly and characteristically, Wilkins and company meet the challenge head-on.
Searching for nothingness in a culture of excess, "Lift," the seventh and closing exhortation to empathy that guides The 7th Hand, is majestic in its creation. It emanates, it culminates, it blesses. From clouds of revelation, it formulates, like Om, like Ascension, into holy music which must be heard. Wilkins, the ever determined spirit, while his stalwart compatriotspianist Micah Thomas, bassist Daryl Johns, and drummer Kweku Sumbryprovide the shifting sands at his feet, the winds which blow equally with him and against him.
"Lift" alone is worth the price of admission. "Lighthouse," "Witness," "Emanation," and the thrilling whole of The 7th Hand cover the drink minimum, dinner, and taxi home. This is music on a whole other level. Tight as a three-minute-single, the quartet seizes each of Wilkins' heady concepts and questions of time with a cutting vigor and dynamic which only comes by once in every generation.
Thomas is especially spatial and expansive, opening if not entirely new vistas, then many of the less trammeled ones. How seamlessly the crisp, pop buoyant interplay of "Emanation" leads into the tribal rhythms of "Don't Break" (featuring Sumbry and his Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble) remains an elusive discovery however many listens one embarks upon. As a reflective pool of prayer, "Fugitive Ritual, Selah" begs us to pause, consider, redeem. Bassist Johns continues his ever elastic journey, while flutist Elena Pinderhughes adds active color and lyric depth to "Witness" and "Lighthouse," each tune keenly displaying Wilkins' acute dexterity for ballad and rave-up.
In closing, The 7th Hand proves that we can think big again, that we can imagine beyond self-inflicted or political margins again, and that the zeal for something better is not only possible, but truly within our grasp.
Elena Pinderhughes: flute; Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble: Kweku Sumbry: lead djembe, bass djembe; Agyei Keita Edwards: lead djembe; Adrian Somerville Jr.: sangban; Jamal Dickerson: doundunba; Yao Akoto: kenkeni.
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