Before 2020 rings itself out, gladly, come midnight this Thursday, dosage MAGAZINE and I have a few positive vibing things up our collective sleeves, the best of which will focus on the finest Philadelphia entertainment moments this year. Before that, however, I was thinking about what a stalwart year that Philadelphia had in regard to its classical music, Philly jazz. As we noted last week, Chris Jazz Café may just have been saved from the pandemic’s axe what with the sudden passing of the Save Our Stages bill(ions). Little is more positive than that. Yet, more so than other music in Philly, collectively, jazz old and new made the deepest impact on listeners and fellow players alike and continues to before December ends.
In the spirit and influence of another one-time local, John Coltrane, alto saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins’ 2020 debut album on Blue Note, “Omega” was just named the Best Jazz Album of the Year by the New York Times. “I’m a traditionalist to people that are non-traditionalists and I’m a non-traditionalist to people who are traditionalist,” Wilkins told me earlier this year on his embrace of a sound that is both warm and familiar, yet filled with enough twists and turns to surprise an Elmore Leonard.
“One of my main goals has been to bridge the gap, and how do I get people who look like me at my shows. The answer is… honesty. Being true to myself. How I create, write, and improvise. We’re all a product of truth and faith.”
“Omega” is the very best answer to all of those questions.
Tessa Thompson, an actress best known for her domineering role in Westworld, can currently be seen in a tense 60s period drama, Sylvie’s Love, where she co-stars with one-time Philadelphia Eagle Nnamdi Asomugha for writer-director Eugene Ashe’s tale of jazz and romance. Along with turning the agile Asomugha into a saxophonist for this leading role, Ashe, a longtime musician from Harlem, New York before he got to the movies, gave his film the gritty realness necessary to make Nnamdi more than just an actor fiddling with keys and pads.
Pandemically speaking and without touring, Philadelphia pianist and composer Orrin Evans has had a crazy busy year. What with solo releases, albums leading his large scale Captain Black Big Band, albums with his other band, The Bad Plus, a Grammy nomination and an outdoor for online streaming live virtual series Club Porch. That doesn’t mean that Evans couldn’t cram in one more mouthful of loose, homey, weird and effervescent noodling and raw knuckled improvisation with his third album for Smoke Sessions Records. “#knowingishalfthebattle,” which pairs him with fellow Philadelphia axe men, guitarists Kevin Eubanks and Kurt Rosenwinkel. Play “Heavy Hangs the Head That Wears the Crown,” loud.
Speaking of Smoke Sessions, that same label is behind Philly jazz pianist Eric Reed’s newest album, “For Such A Time As This.” Though Reed wrote and recorded his new album in Los Angeles during the fire-laced summer of 2020, there is as much soul and uplift as you would expect to find from a spirited intellectually curious Philly dog. Watch the new video for “Make Me Better” and tell me different.