Lakecia Benjamin: Phoenix

Benjamin's first two albums were in the soul-funk realm, her third a Coltrane tribute in the modal sphere. She sees Phoenix blending the two


When an album opens with the sound of police sirens, gunshots and the voice of Angela Davis speaking about those “abandoned by history” you know it’s not just going to be about tunes and chord sequences.

In the event it is essentially about loss, grieving, and how to accomplish a workable recovery. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which took members of her family, Benjamin would, naturally, wake each morning feeling sad. “For me, that was the period when I decided I had to find a new way,” she says. “I figured I’d start with [the title] track, trying to highlight that we’re coming out of this dark period and get on the dance floor.”

It seemed implausible that she could follow her excellent 2020 release Pursuance: The Coltranes with anything other than an anti-climax, but with Phoenix Benjamin has delivered another stunning album. She is on superb form, but there are other excellent contributions too, not least from trumpeter Josh Evans, who appears on six tracks – the basic quartet is augmented by a kaleidoscope of guests on various tunes – and Dianne Reeves, who sings beautifully on the tender Mercy.

The tracks vary in mood and style but all are shot through with passion and honest emotion, not to mention intense, iridescent playing, so it is somewhat invidious to highlight any one track, but if you can sample one, Basquiat, with its echoes of Eric Dolphy, is a good option. Again it seems that Benjamin has made an album that would be hard to surpass . . . but no doubt she will manage that.

Reviewed here on CD, the album is also issued as a limited edition on vinyl, on two 180-gram LPs in a gatefold cover.

Amerikkan Skin; New Mornings; Phoenix: Mercy; Jubilation; Peace Is A Haiku Song; Blast; Moods; Rebirth; Trane; Supernova; Basquiat; Amerikkan Skin (radio edit) (70.28)
Benjamin (as, v, syn); Victor Gould (p, org, elp); Ivan Taylor (b, elb); E. J. Strickland (d) plus (collective personnel) Wallace Roney Jnr, Josh Evans (t); Patrice Rushen (p); Anastassiya Petrova (elp, org); Orange Rodriguez (syn); Georgia Anne Muldrow (v, syn); Jahmal Nichols (b); Negah Santos (pc); Dianne Reeves (v); Josee Klein, Laura Epling (vn); Nicole Neely (vla); Germaine Booker (clo); Sonia Sanchez (poems); Angela Davies, Wayne Shorter (spoken word).
Whirlwind Recordings WR 4797 CD