2024 Grammy Award nominee:
Best Jazz Instrumental Album: Lakecia Benjamin, Phoenix
Best Jazz Performance, vocal or instrumental solo, duo/group, or collaborative: Lakecia Benjamin, "Basquiat" from Phoenix
Best Instrumental Composition: Lakecia Benjamin, composer, "Amerikkan Skin." Lakecia Benjamin, featuring Angela Davis, from Phoenix
Lakecia Benjamin, voted Rising Star Alto Saxophonist in the 2020 DownBeat Critics Poll and selected among 2020’s “25 for the Future” by the same publication, fuses traditional conceptions of jazz, hip hop, and soul to create electrifyingly danceable grooves.
Benjamin’s recent albums include Pursuance (2020), an intergenerational journey through the works of John and Alice Coltrane, and Phoenix (2023), a fearless personal statement about women in jazz that also speaks to societal healing: rising from the ashes of the pandemic, recovering from trauma of all kinds. The album has been recognized with a 2024 GRAMMY Award nomination for Best Album, and Benjamin was nominated in both composition and performance categories.
Benjamin says of Phoenix: “when we came out from the pandemic, we weren't allowed to be broken…we had to be these beautiful absorbent birds and get to work. I wanted to highlight each month of that.”
She makes her Celebrity Series debut (and local debut as a leader) with this concert.
Lakecia Benjamin alto saxophone
Zaccai Curtis piano
Elias Bailey bass
E.J. Strickland drums
ABOUT THE ALBUM
'Phoenix' is the highly-anticipated, expansive new album in the musical evolution of alto saxophonist and composer Lakecia Benjamin, due out January 27, 2023 via Whirlwind Recordings. The album was produced by the multi-Grammy-award winning Terri Lyne Carrington and features a star-studded lineup of specially curated guests Dianne Reeves, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Patrice Rushen, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis and Wayne Shorter. The band is composed of trumpeter Josh Evans, Victor Gould on keys, Orange Rodriguez on synths, drummer Enoch (EJ) Strickland, percussionist Nêgah Santos and bassist Ivan Taylor. Trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr, Rhodes organist Anastassiya Petrova and bassist Jahmal Nichols all join for one track each.
“When we came out from the pandemic we weren't allowed to be broken,” Lakecia shares while describing the deeply personal outing Phoenix became for her. The record presents mostly original compositions written throughout the seasons: “we had to be these beautiful absorbent birds and get to work. I wanted to highlight each month of that.” By design, the compositions on 'Phoenix' are written around the skillsets of her triumphant guests, a handful of women in jazz who have had prominent influences on Lakecia.
Sirens herald the start of the record on 'Amerikkan Skin', featuring American political activist Angela Davis as a guest. 'New Mornings' was composed at the height of the summer: “it was burning up in New York and I felt I was going through the same day over and over again,” says Lakecia, “but the only thing that reverberated or changed was the level of sadness I kept getting every time I woke up. I’d spend my time dreaming of different mornings in new times.”
Title track 'Phoenix' features Georgia Anne Muldrow on synths. “For me, that was the period when I decided I had to find a new way. I figured I start with this track, trying to highlight that we’re coming out of this dark period and get on the dance floor,” Lakecia adds. The track 'Mercy' features vocal megastar Dianne Reeves, who digs deep into the song’s message of kindness with her signature soothing vocal quality. Lakecia highlights pianist Patrice Rushen’s multi-genre aptitude with 'Jubilation', honoring an artist who teaches other women how to rise up to an immense degree.
Tracks six and seven flow as a unit; the first part is a Haiku by poet Sonia Sanchez and the Benjamin-original 'Blast' features Sanchez again. 'Moods' has a more traditional jazz and harder-hitting vibe, while 'Rebirth' was composed as a personal tribute to Lakecia’s family who experienced several losses: “this is on the slower side, but it picks up at the end and has a more joyous feel.” 'Trane', an ode to Alice and John Coltrane, also nods to Lakecia’s previous project. 'Basquiat' is a suite inspired by the neo-expressionist artist and is preceded by a message from jazz giant Wayne Shorter. “He's the ultimate guru,” says Lakecia, “it's almost like he's looking into your soul and only souls matter here.”
“I wanted people to not only feel what I'm saying through the songs and my saxophone, but to also verbally hear it so there's no discrepancy on where we’re coming from,” Lakecia shares, explaining the concept behind her album which is imbued with spoken word. And there is no question that Phoenix marks yet another stratospheric rise for an artist who resolutely knows what she wants to say and how to say it, all the while honoring her mentors and the traditions that have come before her.
“Hustle and ingenuity have defined Benjamin’s career, and her strong will, warmth, and down-to-earth persona come through in the music. Equally melodic and assertive, her sound feels rooted in tradition, yet broad enough to encompass R&B and Latin music; its pronounced funk suggests allegiances to hip-hop and dance.”The New York Times
“The alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin plays jazz that is sprinkled with the rich flavors of funk and soul—she’s a crafty traditionalist who remains in step with the rhythms of the young generation.”The New Yorker