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Alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins follows-up his acclaimed debut Omega (NY Times Best Jazz Album of 2020) with another striking album featuring his remarkable quartet with Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass, and Kweku Sumbry on drums plus special guest appearances by flutist Elena Pinderhughes and the Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble.
The album consists of an hour-long suite comprised of seven movements that strive to bring the quartet closer to complete vesselhood by the end, where the music would be entirely improvised, channeled collectively. The title is derived from a question steeped in Biblical symbolism: If the number six represents the extent of human possibility, Wilkins wondered how it would sound to invoke divine intervention and allow that seventh element to possess his quartet. "It's the idea of being a conduit for the music as a higher power that actually influences what we're playing," he says.
Whether The 7th Hand reaches full vesselhood matters less than the attempt itself. Wilkins and his bandmates reveal their collective truth by peeling themselves back, layer by layer, movement by movement. "Each movement chips away at the band until the last movement — just one written note," says Wilkins. "The goal of what we're all trying to get to is nothingness, where the music can flow freely through us."
With his quartet, Wilkins shows that tilted rhythms, extended harmony and acoustic instruments — the 'blending of idea, tone and imagination' that, for Ralph Ellison, defined jazz more than 50 years ago — can still speak to listeners in the present tense.
Not unlike his biggest hero Kenny Garrett, Wilkins on The 7th Hand plays the alto with a deceivingly wispy yet soulful tone. Among other achievements is his delivery of intricate solos with an eloquent narrative development that constantly remains succinct and melody driven.
Spirit is everything — catalyst and crucible, mother tongue and moral law — on The 7th Hand, the astonishingly assured second album by alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins. His balletic, instinctive quartet moves through this seven-movement suite in pursuit of divine surrender, proving how a blazing intensity of purpose can override the usual divisions of style.
Because Wilkins and his pianist Micah Thomas are wildly creative improvisers, those first six movements, if they stood alone, would comprise a Top Ten album. But the seventh movement, 'Lift,' makes The 7th Hand something apart. It is 26 minutes of hell and heaven in which the four members of Wilkins' quartet, in his words, 'become vessels.' This state of selflessness leads to extremes of shattering crisis and liberating catharsis. Such a testament could only achieve its final fulfillment by risking everything and passing through fire. With 'Lift' as culmination, The 7th Hand becomes overwhelming.
The 7th Hand is a major work. It travels dazzlingly from tranquility and comfort to ambivalence, restlessness, and impatience before it engages re-entry, rebirth, and transcendence. This band understands that Wilkins' bold question may be unanswerable, but they play as if they know. They commit to asking it with music-making as compelling and inspired as it is exploratory and dazzling.
The 7th Hand reveals even more of Wilkins' artistry, deeply embracing Black music, citing his elders, and in so doing, demonstrating a stronger commitment to the spiritual aspects of channeling improvisation through a higher power than heard on his first effort. He further cements his growing reputation as one of the strongest contemporary forces in this music.
- Double LP
- Gatefold Jacket
|The Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble
- Don't Break
- Fugitive Ritual, Selah