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I Hear Sparks: The Mark Lomax Trio – The State of Black America

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With a title like The State of Black America, the new record from the Mark Lomax Trio may sound like a political statement. It is more a statement of personal intent and exploration, however, and Lomax leaves no stone unturned on his quest inward.

The trio is comprised of drummer and composer Lomax, bassist Dean Hulett and saxophonist Edwin Bayard. The crew is a reformation of sorts, with Lomax retooling his first trio, Blacklist, after several years of struggle and reinvigoration.

Lomax’s compositions suggest deep consideration, with each piece on The State of Black America drawing on his experiences and his views. For the composer, the music’s organic path springs out of the dual purposes of disillusionment and profound peace. It is in this contrast that the 50 minutes of music on this record exist. The constant conflict is fascinating, entertaining and provoking.

The State of Black America is defiant and proud, spitting on the dividing lines arbitrarily drawn up by a society stuck in roles and classes. It is spirited, buoyed consistently by the chemistry of the group and the creativity of the leader.

The album opens fittingly with “Stuck in a Rut,” a cathartic piece of jazz madness if I’ve ever heard one. It is a vigorous and necessary statement of intent, forming a striking image of the trio as a strong and vibrant collective charging forward mightily. Bayard’s playing is urgent and vital, bursting with colors and lights.

It’s no accident that the record’s middle trio of tracks focuses on the notion of knowledge and, at times, the lack of it. “The Unknown Self” is couched in Hulett’s soft and calculated bass tones, while “The Power of Knowing” exhibits unity. “To Know God is to Know Thyself” pulls in loose, free jazz tones to a powerful sense of closure, elaborating on the idea suggested by the song’s title with peace in the midst of apparent disorder.

“Blues for Charles” closes the record with a nice thick slice of juicy blues, offering us a welcome breather from the ferocity of the album’s main drive.

For Lomax, The State of Black America sprang out of a “crisis of identity.” In the liner notes, he asks, “What does it mean to be Black in America? Why is the color of my skin such an issue?” In the soul of this record, Lomax may not have found all the answers or have even come close. But through the passion and energy of his trio, he may well have discovered that the questions have little meaning after all.

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