Logan Richardson – AfroFuturism


Title: AfroFuturism
Artist: Logan Richardson
Label: Whirlwind
Formats: CD, LP, Digital
Release date: March 12, 2021


Kansas City-born saxophonist Logan Richardson made his debut as a bandleader in 2007 with Cerebral Flow, an album that reflects his time performing with jazz musicians such as Pat Metheny, Joe Chambers, Billy Hart, Butch Morris, Stefon Harris and Jason Moran. Since then, Richardson’s work has become increasingly eclectic, ranging from performances with the urban jazz supergroup NEXT Collective to his 2018 release Blues People, which busted through any boundaries limiting what jazz fusion could aspire to. Now back in Kansas City and sheltering from the pandemic in an apartment once inhabited by Charlie Parker, Richardson imagines an even broader universe of sound on his latest project, AfroFuturism.

Much of Richardson’s sonic exploration reflects his deep engagement with African American musical traditions and their intersection with other genres, from contemporary urban forms such as trap to sounds of the global diaspora, electronic music, and just about everything in between. Commenting on his vision for the project, Richardson says, “I was trying to get back deeper to the core of my artistic voice: using fresh production processes to mix in my interconnected influences and all the sounds I hear, while trying to find a sense of roots.” His collaborators, carefully chosen to enhance this vision, include Ukrainian jazz and rock guitarist Igor Osypov, Kansas City-based vibraphonist and pianist Peter Schlamb, bassist Dominique Sanders, and the versatile drummers Ryan J. Lee and Corey Fonville.

Following the album’s brief intro “Say My Name,” with Stefon Harris extolling the virtues of past giants of jazz saxophone, the band segues into “The Birth of Us.” Though this track opens in the style of a melodic if slightly stuttering concoction of urban jazz, it soon veers off course into a through-composed piece Richardson aptly describes as “Frank Zappa, Queen, Brian Wilson and Radiohead meets Schoenberg in a sci-fi 80s lounge.” Rising Italian vocalist Laura Taglialatela is featured on the otherworldly “Sunrays” that fuses jazz with blues and gospel harmonies, and the bittersweet ballad “Farewell, Goodbye.” On “Black Wall Street,” composed like a string quartet, Turkish cellist Ezgi Karakus adds layers of haunting melodies briefly interrupted by a wail of despair from Richardson’s sax that seems to come straight from the souls of those murdered during the 1921 Tulsa massacre.

Interludes serve as important markers between selected tracks, such as the meditative “Awaken” set to a poem by Logan’s mother DiAnna Richardson asking listeners to “do what God Said: embrace the differences, love from the heart,” and “Grandma,” featuring a snippet of a field recording of his Great Grandmother Wolff singing “Farewell, Goodbye.” Dominique Sanders, who also writes and produces for rapper Tech9, showcases his production skills on the atmospheric instrumental “According to You.” Another highlight is “Roundup,” which finds the group exploring a range of electronically enhanced influences from jazz to rock in a musical commentary on the actions of police during recent protests. On the closing “Praise Song,” Richardson holds down the melodic core as his colleagues freely improvise in a blast of urban jazz meets praise and worship. 

AfroFuturism is a departure from the earthbound constraints of traditional jazz, as Logan Richardson imagines a world of wildly diverse sounds and styles that will take listeners to the next dimension and beyond. 

Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss