Stereophile Editor's Pick - Recording Of The Month, June 2021!
Performance 5/5 Stars / Sonics 4/5 Stars
"Time is just the difference between knowing now and knowing nothing. Because if you know now fully, it's past, present, and future." - Mattie Humphries, 1968
Damon Locks & Black Monument Ensemble's previous album, their 2018 debut Where Future Unfolds, had a best new music in Pitchfork, was a "Top 50 Album of the Year" in Wire Magazine, and was BBC DJ Gilles Peterson's unequivocal "Favorite Album of the Year."
NOW is the band's much anticipated followup, which carries on their unique brand of Choir-fronted Hip-Hop-meets-Gospel/Jazz Liberation Music - very much a modern day echo of the Harlem Freedom Singers and/or Eddie Gale's Black Rhythm Happening. This new one is a bit heavier on the beats and drum machines, sounding almost like Public Enemy/Bomb Squad working with ESG. Clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid and cornet player Ben LaMar Gay are heavily featured on this album.
NOW is the second album by Locks's Black Monument Ensemble, and it's a monumental 31 minutes. While 2019's Where Future Unfolds held promise, it lacked immediacy. If that was the future, NOW is now. The album was written under lockdown and recorded in the Chicago studio's back yard - cicadas there to testify - to allow for fresh air and distancing, with percussion, horn, and sampled overdubs added later. The result is a soundscape fantasy: the immediacy of a live session plus layers of atmospherics and disembodied samples; even the cicadas are looped and folded back in. The sound isn't always perfect - the band might not have done multiple takes; the mikes might not always have been perfectly placed - but they more than make up for it with postproduction sculpting. The six tracks radiate assuredness, an intoxicating mix with shades of the 5th Dimension in the voices and Pharoah Sanders in the music. The album opens with the infectious 'Now (Forever Momentary Space),' suggesting in lyric and tune 'melodies in gold, dipped in sunlight,' worthy of a Sun Ra song... The closing 'The Body Is Electric' echoes the opening track and brings the album to a head with chants, percussion jams, and strong soloing by [clarinetist Angel Bat] Dawid and cornetist Ben LaMar Gay (who has two International Anthem releases of his own) in 10 and a half minutes. It could have gone for an hour. There is, to be sure, a lot going on in the mix. The glue that holds it together is the small, six-voice chorus, working in unison harmonies and two-part counterpoint; they deliver verses of positivity that are only corny if you call Curtis Mayfield corny. It's an uplifting album that finds new ways to deliver age-old messages. It's also a good inroad for those who haven't picked up on the new wind coming out of Chicago. International Anthem is doing a fine job at what good jazz labels used to do: give artists a place to collaborate and grow over time. It's an exciting thing to see and hear, and NOW is a good place, and time, to start.
- Vinyl LP
- Reverse-board jacket with artwork by Damon Locks
- Eastside IARC obi strip
- 17"x22" folded broadsheet insert with liner notes, photos & illustrations
- Dome patterned inner sleeve
|Angel Bat Dawid||clarinet|
|Ben LaMar Gay||cornet, melodica|
|Damon Locks||samples, electronics|
- Now (Forever Momentary Space)
- The People vs The Rest Of Us
- Keep Your Mind Free
- Barbara Jones-Hogu And Elizabeth Catlett Discuss Libertation
- Movement And You
- The Body Is Electric