Lakecia Benjamin “Presents Pursuance-The Music of the Coltranes” on January 11th, 2020 at Le Poisson Rouge in New York City as part of the New York City Winter Jazzfest. I believe this is an Alice Coltrane theme. The core band is Lakecia Benjamin, alto saxophone, Lonnie Plaxico, bass, Darrell Green, drums and Zaccai Curtis, piano joined by a guest flutist.
Lakecia has found her sound. She was never really lost. Has been resolute. Moving straight ahead. Young and bold but also wise enough to know she had to study, had to work at attaining the goals she had in mind. Had to be around. Others. Veteran musicians and music lovers. People in the industry. Fellow sound slingers.
Being popular helps one get work but popularity alone is not enough to make a major contribution to the art. To the long tradition of jazz history. To making a mark on the wall of creators who made a difference.
You have to last more than a minute. She has. You have to achieve originality. She has.
She cracked the code of figuring out how to forge forward by reaching back. And at the same time, not to merely imitate what others have done, what your teachers, your heroes, those you admire, what they did. How they sounded in their sounding. After all you can only become part of the sacred whole by being yourself, not by being someone else.
For a minute, one might have thought she was going to settle for being just another among many who were content to be popular for a time period but of no great impact on the future, no major contribution to extending the tradition, but she had other goals in mind.
Lakecia plays alto saxophone and decided to step into the light of the greatest saxophonist in jazz history: John Coltrane. And not just Coltrane the man, but rather Coltrane the family man whose consort, Alice Coltrane, was a composer and instrumentalist in her own rite. Lakecia embraced both of them as a model for what she wanted to achieve.
And thus was born Lakecia’s new release. Thirteen tracks of Coltrane music. Clearly this is the music of today; informed but not confined by the aesthetics of classic/contemporary jazz with a taste of hip hop. Especially the rhythms. She is never merely an imitator. She has her own fire. And brings that noise.
You know it is not Trane (or Alice). And it’s not just that she plays alto instead of tenor or piano. You know this is not music twenty or more years old, even though the compositions are from a much earlier era. Even though some of the cast of musicians were contemporaries of Trane, a couple even performed with Trane. Indeed, the assemblage could even be considered a who’s who of jazz musicians past and present.
With alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin, drummer Darrell Green, bassist Lonnie Plaxico, pianist Zaccai Curtis, vocalist Charenee Wade, and special guests: vocalist Dee Dee Bridgewater, bassist Reggie Workman, alto saxophonist Steve Wilson, and violinist Regina Carter.
On one recording, Lakecia brings together Reggie Workman, Ron Carter, Gary Bartz, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Meshell Ndegecello, Regina Carter, Bertha Hope, Las Poets, Greg Osby, Steve Wilson, John Benitez, Marc Cary, Marcus Gilmore, Keyon Harrold, Marcus Strickland, Brandee Younger, Georgia Anne Muldrow and Jazzmela Horn.
One might think this is a can’t miss grouping but the truth is at every instance, on every cut, Lakecia is not only the leader, she is instantly identified as a guiding light, the sonic laser and leading force. You hear this and know: this is Lakecia Benjamin.
She has that hard (won) sound of surprising intensity and elegance. Pursuance is a recording not to be missed.