Black Monument Ensemble / Damon Locks

Where Future Unfolds

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Chicago-based Damon Locks is a visual artist, musician (Eternals, Trenchmouth, Exploding Star Orchestra), and educator. His Black Monument Ensemble is a 15-piece collective of musicians, singers (alumni of Chicago Children's Choir and dancers from Move Me Soul. His instrumentalists include clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid, drummer Dana Hall, and percussionist Arif Smith. Locks plays bells, various electronics, and voice. The work was recorded during a live performance at the Garfield Park Botanical Conservatory during November of 2018.

Where Future Unfolds is a complex, but relatively accessible work of avant garde, activist, socio-political jazz, soul and poetry. Its roots lie in the work of Philip Cohran & the Artistic Heritage Ensemble's performances, and the recordings of Amiri Baraka's performances with Sun Ra's Myth Science Arkestra (Black Mass) and David Murray (New Music, New Poetry). Its narrative content juxtaposes the roots and branches of the civil rights and black consciousness movements of the 1950s and '60s, the prophetic tradition of Pentecostal African American gospel, as well as the theories and activist tenets of Afrofuturist art. These ten tracks holistically recombine these individual threads into a labyrinthine whole that's political, spiritual, artful, bewildered, and angry. "The Colors That You Bring,” offers a distorted lo-fi hip hop shuffle that creates a foundation for strummed guitar and string samples, Dawid's bass clarinet soloing, and spiritual soul. The choir's female voices enter, in a multi-harmonic chant before a female vocalist speaks to her confusion and conviction in the pantheon of history and the historical present. Following her recitation, vocal soloists engage the pre-Thomas Dorsey African gospel tradition buoyed by the band and backing vocalists. It transforms halfway through with swirling modern gospel; the call and response become transcendent. "Sounds Like Now" is introduced by kalimbas, guitars and harps, bubbling hand percussion and a trap kit. The choir begins a modal ascent atop a shattered 4/4 beat: "Every morning there's more talk of murder? Every morning at least one less alive…Oh my people/The same things happened/ They tell the same lie/The words are not peaceful, separate not equal/The power to the government never to the people…." Before Dawid's B-flat clarinet solos above the hypnotic rhythm, the music invites the listener into a trancelike, soulful yet seemingly alien atmosphere. That said it exists in the street and in the fields. Each song is inextricably linked, to one another as well as to the entire work. The poetry, sermonizing, electro beats, loops and Pre-War gospel vocals, hover and drift above droning harmoniums, squalling clarinets and percussion during the final two pieces, "Power," and "From A Spark To A Fire." They confront a (still) racist, oppressive American present that nonetheless speaks to possibility arrived at by (even more) sacrifice while straddling African American folk musics, spiritual soul, and avant-jazz. These are all-encompassing paeans to commitment, education, spirituality, and political action. Where Future Unfolds is provocative to be sure, but it's also breathtaking, bracing, ultimately hopeful in its gritty realism and hope. This is a major work that should be encountered by anyone remotely interested in modern aural and performance art, improvisation and truth.

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