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Damon Locks Black Monument Ensemble: Where Future Unfolds

Gareth Thompson By

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A creative force known as the Black Renaissance emerged on Chicago's South Side in the 1930s and developed through the next decades. This movement produced visual artists, writers and musicians, who explored new ideals of black culture via theatre, art works and composition to address social issues.

Damon Locks might seem a modern torch-bearer for this crusade, having been active in Chicago for years on many fronts. Of late he has done sound and animation work with previously unheard Sun Ra recordings, taught incarcerated artists for a Prison and Neighbourhood Arts Project and produced artwork for International Anthem, an exciting Chicago-based label with a yen for the ingenious.

Where Future Unfolds began for Locks as a sound collage piece, utilising his drum machine and samples from Civil Rights-era recordings. Four years on, the project had grown to enfold musicians such as Angel Bat Dawid on clarinets, two percussionists and a sextet of singers. The whole ensemble was captured live for this album at Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory on Chicago's West Side. Raising the spirits whilst troubling the mind, the music finds kindred souls among Vula Viel, Fire! Orchestra, Ben LaMar Gay, The Pyramids and Lonnie Liston Smith.

"Statement Of Intent" sets things off with clanking cowbells, rumbling rhythms and Locks' loudhailer-style voiceover. Less a call to arms, more a forceful muse on existence, the narration swoops into "Black Monument Theme" and its joyous gospel refrain. "Sounds Like Now" has a percussive house vibe where the vocalists sing in harmony as one, yet without obvious harmony parts. The effect is unifying whilst Dawid's clarinet pokes some levity into the solemn text: "Movies show apocalypse/We're living through the sequel/I thought in time things would change."

Dawid swings a sweet refrain on "Solar Power" among acapella parts, voice samples and muted congas, whilst the catchy "Rebuild A Nation" works a similar low-key groove. Next up, Locks deploys an arsenal of electronica blips, whirrs and spacey hoverings for "Which I Believe It Will" alongside vocal cut-ups and a snapping rhythm. "Which I Believe I Am" then uncovers a vintage recording of some downtown street choir whose handmade rhythms are bolstered with a modern sheen. "The Colors That You Bring" comes nearest to a full band sound, using fat grooves, woodwind and shivery synths. Whether its lyrical theme is simplistic or even naïve, every word is sung with conviction and grace: "When all else fails/As sirens wail/Who will prevail?"

Wheezy blasts from Dawid's clarinet rather mimic a harmonica on "The Future?" A rumpus of drums, turning riotous, backs the song's poignant voice sample, "Those of us who are not ready for the burning" with its echoes of 1950s Alabama. "Power" rattles and pummels as a solo vocal prompts an exalted response, before "From A Spark To A Fire" brings the closing meditation. This last cut, with its overlapped chants, is one for linking arms to whilst swaying in a line.

A real communal experience, Where Future Unfolds shows activism and artistry still in tandem, just as suffering and the spiritual life have often been. Locks offers a ministry of sound here that could be the new voice of black resistance.

Track Listing: Statement Of Intent; Black Monument Theme; Sounds Like Now; Solar Power; Rebuild A Nation; Which I Believe It Will; Which I Believe I Am; The Colors That You Bring; The Future?; Power; From A Spark To A Fire.

Personnel: Damon Locks: electronics, bells, voice; Angel Bat Dawid: clarinets; Dana Hall: drums, percussion; Arif Smith: percussion; Phillip Armstrong: vocals; Monique Golding: vocals; Rayna Golding: vocals; Eric McCarter: vocals; Tramaine Parker: vocals; Lauren Robinson: vocals.

Title: Where Future Unfolds | Year Released: 2019 | Record Label: International Anthem Recording Company

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