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Arts and Lifestyle

Album Review: Jazz ode to African culture
Published Wednesday, August 27, 2014
by Rosa Fattahi, Correspondent

Isis & Osiris

The Mark Lomax Trio

**** (4/5 stars)

Release date: Sept. 16

The Mark Lomax Trio will release Isis & Osiris, a unique jazz concept album brimming with African mytho-spiritual themes and mesmerizing polyrhythms.

Featuring renowned drummer Lomax, accompanied by Edwin Bayard on tenor saxophone and Dean Hulett on bass, the CD follows the critically acclaimed 2010 release, The State of Black Jazz. That powerful album weaves the creative spirit of African mythology with the American art of jazz, creating an exceptional work that pays homage to the history, legends and culture of Africa.

Lomax conceived the album as a way to address American culture’s relative lack of African mythology and spirituality, compared to cultural elements tied to ancient Greece and Rome. Inspired by the spiritual fables of Africa, the album draws on the legendary tales of Egyptian goddess Isis and her husband Osiris. In fact, as Lomax himself has noted, the album musically maps the lovers’ evocative story of love, murder, war and resurrection.

Upbeat Nubian rhythms on the opening “Kemet” set the pace for the trio’s foray through an African legend. From there, the main tracks, which have titles that follow the legendary storyline of Isis and Osiris, are woven together seamlessly with interludes featuring each player’s talents in solo.

On “Isis,” Bayard’s prominent, smooth tenor saxophone is supported by Lomax’s precise, allegro drumming and, later, Hulett’s earthy bass tones, until multiple crescendos animate the track dedicated to the wise, loving goddess mother.

Likewise, “Osiris” echoes the grandeur and strength of the mighty god whose name it bears. Bayard showcases his sax skills over a rhythmic drumbeat peppered with bass lines that move the track with the force of a deity. The same vibrant energy can be felt from “Chaos,” an improvisational depiction of Osiris’ murder and the battle that finally defeated his assailant, the god Set. Fittingly, the song has an almost frantic yet ordered sound that mirrors the bedlam of war.

The pace slows down some on the album’s second half. Beginning with a slow, silky sax melody that seems to dance as it is highlighted by detailed drum work and simple bass notes, “Love” is a musical frolic that reflects Isis’ struggles to bring her beloved back from the grips of death. The final track, “Resurrection,” is perhaps the most upbeat and joyful. Representing Osiris’ rebirth and rise to a place at the head of the pantheon of Egyptian gods, the song is a head-bopping, body-moving sequence that bears the mood of one rejoicing at the heavens.

Notably, the absence of sound is used to break up the notes on the album, starting with the first track’s near-silent intro until bits of sound gently disrupt the emptiness. From a concept perspective, such clever use of silence can be seen as a profound reflection of the lack of African culture in American music and art today, a representation of the empty space that the trio aptly fills with their musical conjuring of Mother Africa.

On Isis & Osiris, The Mark Lomax Trio presents stirring melodies, thoughtful themes, and emotive improvisations that evoke the traditions and spirits of our African ancestors. With honeyed saxophone melodies, detail-rich drumbeats and pulsing bass riffs, African legend is illustrated and honored in sound. Lomax and company offer listeners a remarkable rebirth of the jazz concept album — music with a tangible spirituality that makes a statement.


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