Incense and pressure waves

Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few by Lukas Diller
Isaiah Collier & The Chosen Few by Lukas Diller

What does jazz smell like? The answer on Wednesday evening at the UT Connewitz: incense sticks. With these, the manager of Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few walks through the hall before the concert begins. It's an attempt to mask the smell of the explosion that follows shortly after.

The start of the concert is quiet. The formation around the young saxophonist enters the stage and remains in the semi-darkness at the instruments, the body turned to the east. A homage to the Art Ensemble of Chicago, in whose tradition the band stands. What follows is a gentle carpet of sound from bowed and struck singing bowls, from bells, jingles and woods. In addition, the voice of the sunglassed saxophonist: "Cosmic Transitions, Black Music". A reference to the new album as well as classification in the Afro-American musical tradition.

Then the fuse burns out: the bass runs, the drums beat wildly, the piano keys threaten to break. Above it all, the fast phrases of Collier. A shock wave emanates from the stage, pushing the audience back into their seats. Drummer James Russell Sims plays so virtuosic and tight that the impression arises that a second drum kit is hiding behind the curtain. Bassist Jeremiah Hunt picks up the rhythms of the drums, giving structure and preventing them from drifting into chaos. Pianist Julian Davis Reid plays fast - because the sound and the energy don't allow anything else. And Isaiah Collier brings it all together: The saxophonist picks up the sound structure and moves it into the spiritual with his melodies. The audience can breathe a sigh of relief in moments when the pressure softens a little. For example, when Collier and Hunt play traditional Chinese flutes, or between the notes of a quieter bass solo.

The evening resembles a transcendent experience: the vault and the temple-like stage of the UT Connewitz, the incense sticks, the fog and the lights, the energy and the never-ending sound. But the flowery description pales in comparison to what finds expression in the music. In the performance, Isaiah Collier and The Chosen Few process the black experience in the U.S., pianist Reid explains. They tell of the pain and frustration, but also of the joy. Of what it means to be a black person in the United States. At dinner before the concert, they talked about slavery, Reid adds. During the encore, the actually quiet piece "After The Rain" by John Coltrane, Collier sounds like he's screaming. 

The first song out of the speakers after the show is "Mannenberg" by Abdullah Ibrahim, one of the unofficial anthems of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. As the concert ends, the pressure eases from the chest. The pain remains.


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