Immanuel Wilkins photo courtesy of the artist
Saturday, April 1, 7:30pm
2017 Boren Ave
BY ANDREW MEYER
In 2020, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins released his debut recording Omega, which was hailed by The New York Times as its number one record for the year. While this was an incredible milestone for the young artist, the release of Omega also served to introduce the quartet which would become the foundation for Wilkins’ growth as composer and bandleader. This regular group, comprised of Micah Thomas on piano, Rick Rosato on bass (formerly Daryl Johns), and Kweku Sumbry on drums, has created fertile ground for Wilkins to explore during recent commissions from the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, The Jazz Gallery Residency Commission program, and the Kimmel Center artist in residence program. These commissions have found Wilkins expanding into interdisciplinary work alongside Sidra Bell Dance for The Jazz Gallery, and in collaboration with photographer Rog Walker and videographer David Dempewolf for the Kimmel Center.
Wilkins’ current album, The 7th Hand, showcases the profundity of his compositional style, both in terms of conceptual and spiritual vision, as well as his pure compositional technique. This unique blend was recognized by Pitchfork Magazine and lauded, “[Wilkins] composes ocean-deep jazz epics.” Conceived as a seven-movement suite, Wilkins “explores the relationships between presence and nothingness.” Throughout the record, fragmented melodic cells (which are used to create compositional cohesion) are countered by flowing improvisation. The first six movements are rhythmically related through metric modulation based on triplets. However, rather than impose an overly-intellectual feeling, this advanced technique lends the album a natural feeling of flow. This balance between tightly controlled structures and intuitive playing is a hallmark of Wilkins’ style.
Wilkins’ alto saxophone sound has a lightness that is full of color and perhaps reflects his desire to be “a conduit for the music as a higher power that actually influences what we’re playing.” Wilkins began his musical life in the church and wears its influence on his sleeve. The 7th Hand, is an open reflection on the invocation of “divine intervention” and spiritual possession by the quartet in performance. The album’s bold cover art is explained by Wilkins, “I wanted to remix the Southern Black baptism, and also provide critique on what is considered sanctified and who can be baptized.” Wilkins’ stated goal is to “create music and to develop a voice that has a profound spiritual and emotional impact.”
Immanuel Wilkins has a diverse resume as a sideman, appearing with jazz luminaries such as Wynton Marsalis, Jason Moran, Gerald Clayton, Aaron Parks, and Gretchen Parlato, as well as artists further afield such as Lalah Hathaway, Solange Knowles, and Bob Dylan. A graduate of Juilliard, Wilkins has gone on to teach at NYU and The New School, as well as give master classes at prestigious institutions such as Oberlin, Yale, and the Kimmel Center.
Following a celebrated performance at the 2021 Earshot Jazz Festival, Immanuel Wilkins returns to Seattle to perform with his quartet on April 1 at the new Raisbeck Auditorium. It’s no joke. Tickets are on sale now at earshot.org.