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Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins’ sophomore album — creative, conceptually ambitious and deeply emotional — cements his status as a generational talent. Its title, The 7th Hand, references the Biblical notion that divine presence (represented by the number 7) can allow us to overcome the constraints of our mortal capacity to create (the number 6). In a Blue Note press release, Wilkins cites the intent to “be a conduit for the music as a higher power that actually influences what we’re playing.”
The album is structured as a seven-part suite, rich with segues, recurring motifs and dramatic contrasts. The first six pieces each present the quartet with a series of unique improvisational parameters, often serving as Biblical or Black historical allegory. There is little that the bandleader takes for granted when he builds these compositions; they are stylistically and structurally disparate, never once conceding to a conventional head-body-head format.
The record bursts open with “Emanation,” a fleet and fragmented post-bop tune that warps the listener’s sense of time through a sequence of uncanny metric changes. It transitions seamlessly into “Don’t Break,” in which the band relaxes into the mantric repetition of a simple phrase. Drummer Kweku Sumbry is joined by the Farafina Kan Percussion Ensemble, who erode the melodic figure with undulating waves of hand percussion. “Fugitive Ritual, Selah” unfurls a soulful, pastoral melody that settles into a vamp of mournful warmth, circling yearningly around the tonal center before finally arriving on the last chord.
The seventh and final movement, “Lift,” accounts for almost half of the total run time and is freely improvised. The quartet shudders through 19 minutes of squealing chaos, breaks into an open space of abstraction and then crashes at once into a wall of silence. Intention yields to pure attention. The last few minutes of the piece trace a single dynamic arc, a soft collective gesture that is both a breath and a scream. — Asher Wolf
Featured photo: Rog Walker