Following his auspicious 2019 debut, Where Future Unfolds, Chicago-based multi-media artist/activist Damon Locks and his jazz-based Black Monument Ensemble return with their latest release, NOW. Featuring six new tracks, this multi-generational collective of Chicago artists continues their mission of presenting vibrant, uplifting music and dance that draws “from all facets of the diverse wellspring of Black artistic excellence.” The new project is also a response to the group’s previous release: “the future has unfolded and taken a new and dangerous shape… what happens NOW?’”
Recorded outdoors during the summer of 2020 with cicadas adding to the mix, the album is a commentary on the “months of pandemic-induced fear & isolation, the explosion of social unrest, [and] struggle & violence in the streets.” Locks unleashes his artistic vision through a sound collage of samples and electronics, anchored by an instrumental ensemble featuring Angel Bat Dawid on clarinet, Ben LaMar Gay on cornet and melodica, Dana Hall and Arif Smith on drums and percussion, and a soulful choir of six singers. Opening with “NOW (Forever Momentary Space),” the song encourages listeners to gaze beyond the horizon to a future where anything is possible, albeit a dissonance note or two from the clarinet hints at hazards along the way.
The album’s second single, “Keep Your Mind Free” opens with the warning, “Pretty soon the whole world…is gonna go crazy.” The infectious rhythms and Gay’s jazzy trumpet licks attempt to illuminate these dark days of fear and isolation while also serving as a reminder, according to Locks, that we’re living “in a time where safety is not a given, in a locked-down world, to be liberated from restraint we have to keep our minds free.”
Though initially released as a digital download, look for physical copies of NOW in early July.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss