January’s often a time of redressing missteps. High on this writer’s list was not publishing a review of two of the finest jazz records to come out of Columbus in my memory: Blues People by The Mark Lomax Trio and The Art of Sound by The Ogún Meji Duo (available in a bundle here). Hopefully in the spirit of “better late than never,” thoughts on both records and videos of both groups are below the cut. This week also marks a special show from Lomax at Notes on Thursday, January 26th with an all-star band including bassist Dwight Bailey, pianist Bobby Floyd, saxophonist Eddie Bayard, and trumpeter Mike Wade, paying tribute to undersung Ohio legend Logan Rollins. The show starts at 7:30pm and tickets are available for a free RSVP at this link or $5 at the door.
Blues People features Lomax’s long-time trio of Eddie Bayard on sax and William Menefield on piano. With a name paying homage to Amiri Baraka’s ur-text, its seven tracks trace the influence of the African Diaspora on American music. The narrative quality of Lomax’s compositions come to the fore here, meticulously executed by the trio. Opening track “Afrika” begins with the heartbeat of a tom and flowers into a solo percussion panoply, implying many voices, as it builds for four minutes before chords bubble up like pure water from Menefield. Bayard’s melodies seem to unfurl like the light in all directions while still maintaining clarity and focus. “Amerikkka” deploys a more fractured, ominous mood with Lomax’s muscular drumming starting from a martial beat and shifting it tectonically until it cracks and strains; a sardonic Bayard quote of “America the Beautiful” turns into an Ayler-esque plaintive scream echoed in the more frantic drumming and piano stabs.
The album’s centerpiece comes with “Freedom|Reconstruction|KKK,” followed by “Freedom Ain’t Free.” “Freedom|Reconstruction|KKK” opens with a gorgeous Menefield solo that feels like breathing fresh air for the first time. That melody slowly gets more complicated with rushes of Rzewski-meets-Bud Powell clusters but keeping the true promise of that melody as Lomax’s rolls propel it forward and shadow the darkness seeping in with a slashing, slippery hi-hat. The theme turns sinister, dropping into a patchwork of shadows courtesy of the low-end of Lomax’s kit and piled-up dissonances from the keyboard. Going from that perfect melody into a growling, shuddering statement of terror and death while still retaining thematic ties that make it clearly one piece is jaw-dropping. “Freedom Ain’t Free” deploys Bayard’s sax as preacher and organizer, a statement of intent. It grooves in a more easily identifiable way, but those thick rhythms retain the mysterious quality that gives all the music on this remarkable record its power.
Art of Sound is the kind of record you could only make with players who have the kind of history Lomax and Bayard do. Paying tribute to their influences without ever feeling corny or staid, full of reverence that never turns into slavish imitation. “That’s The Idea: Homage to Kidd Jordan” has the same earthy love of melody its namesake brings to everything he’s done and the same uncompromising dedication to following inspiration wherever it leads while sounding unmistakably like them. Bayard’s high flutters shifting seamlessly into low snarls bears some marks of Jordan and Lomax’s bedrock underneath hints at Hamid Drake’s great work with Jordan (while also using a ride that recalls Ed Blackwell and Earl Palmer where appropriate) but with a modern approach. “Ornette’s Theory” is a gleeful, rapturous plumbing of the intersection of urban R&B and the expressionistic avant-garde where the great Coleman stuck his flag. “Griot Love Song Pt 2” takes off from its predecessor on Lomax’s solo drum masterpiece Modern Communications in Ancient Rhythms and amplifies the radiant beauty of knowledge and empathy with some of the most seamless simpatico playing from the two men.
There isn’t a bad track to be found on Art of Sound. It’s a flawless exploration of the duo form that’s out there enough for the biggest free jazz heads but never gets lost in its own head.