Alto Saxophonist Logan Richardson Explores Synthesis Of Form & Influences Via ‘Afrofuturism’ (ALBUM REVIEW)

Afrofuturism is the fifth solo album on five different labels by the alto saxophonist/composer/producer Logan Richardson, likely an indication of his unbounded curiosity, and restless, open-minded approach. Five albums may not seem like many but consider that Richardson stays busy as a sideman too, having appeared on these acclaimed albums in just the past two years: Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah’s Ancestral Recall (2019), Gerald Clayton’s Happening: Live at the Village Vanguard (2020), and Ndudzo Makhatmini’s Modes of Communication: Letters from the Undergrounds (2020). Richardson has appeared on albums from Billy Hart, Nicola Conte, Ambrose Akinmusire, and Joe Chambers to name a few others. The last time we peered in at Richardson’s solo work was his 2018 Blues People (Ropedope). Threads that run through all these engagements are his embrace of the Black American improvised music tradition as well as the contemporary sounds of the global diaspora and his willingness to incorporate other sounds such as electronica, hip-hop, trap, rock, and R&B into his vision. 

This project, through a generous 15 tracks, on Whirlwind Recordings is a synthesis of those forms and influences. There are plenty of keyboards, synthesizers, and programming at work along with the latest edition of his Blues People band, some who return from his album of the same name – guitarist Igor Osypov, drummer Ryan J. Lee, and bassist Dominique Sanders on bass and sharing production duties. New members are Peter Schlamb on vibes and keys and drummer Corey Fonville. Richardson also weaves in an array of diverse sonic interludes, scraps of found audio, unexpected introspective strings performed by Ezgi Karakus, and hushed balladry from long-time collaborator, vocalist Laura Taglialatela.

The album ensues with the voice of Stefon Harris introducing “Say My Name” which leads into the epic “The Birth Of Us,” a multi-faceted, orchestral sounding piece for the whole band with his alto echoing as if otherworldly against the shimmering backdrop – “Frank Zappa, Queen, Brian Wilson and Radiohead meets Schoenberg in a sci-fi 80s lounge,” laughs Logan. “Awaken” (from a poem by Logan’s mother) and “Sunrays” (with Laura Taglialatela and Corey Fonville) explore different voice and textual combinations to create enchanting layers of sound. “For Alto” is a nod to fellow altoist Anthony Braxton, while “Light” is a ballad featuring Logan duetting with himself. “Trap,” perhaps most associated with Scott Atunde Adjuah, is Richardson’s interpretation of the contemporary Southern-US sound.

The second half, mostly spacey and spacious, begins with a field recording of his great-grandma singing introduces “Farewell, Goodbye,” a vocal elegy, sung by Taglialatela, for the late lamented McCoy Tyner, with Schlamb delivering powerful piano chords before the lush strings dissolve into the somber “Black Wall Street,” featuring cellist Ezgi Karakus, remembering the Tulsa Race Riots of 1921, with Richardson’s alto powerfully signifying the cries of anguish. There’s a burst of found audio narration from Busta Rhymes (“Photo Copy”) before the final trio of tunes, the first also in the socio-political vein as the Blues People return for “Round Up,” bubbling sound clusters reflecting police actions during the recent summer of activist protests. Richardson and Taglialatela combine with alternating sounds of sax, electronica, and voice on “According to You” before closing with the gospel-inspired “Praise You.” Most will also probably have the bonus track “I’m Not Bad, I’m Just Drawn That Way,” another that features Laura’s voice, his alto, and ethereal soundscapes.

Every one of the ever-explorative Richardson’s five albums is distinctly different from each other. He says this about this one, “I always feel strongly about all my projects, but this one was so fluid in the way we produced it and the way the different voices came together. It feels like something truly special.”  Tread into it carefully as it takes more than a few listens to fully absorb it all. It does flow smoothly, and its futuristic vision needs to be appreciated not in bite-sized moments but in its entirety.

 

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