The Mark Lomax Trio: Isis and Osiris
Inarhyme Records

So many jazz trio recordings have been released during the last half-century, one struggles to imagine what could possibly be done to freshen up the idea. On Isis and Osiris, Mark Lomax offers a very compelling solution by adding conceptual imagination to stellar small-group playing. The Columbus, Ohio-based drummer/composer, who recently earned his Doctor of Music Arts degree at Ohio State University, is joined on the forty-seven-minute recording by tenor saxist Edwin Bayard and acoustic bassist Dean Hulett. Lomax draws upon the legacies of John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, and Charles Mingus in his music, and as a drummer draws inspiration from Elvin Jones and Ed Blackwell, among others. Like Max Roach and Tony Williams, Lomax approaches his kit as a musical instrument, something especially evident in his solos, which eschew grandstanding for story-telling.

Isis and Osiris, which deals mythologically with the roots of African-American culture and specifically the stories and history of Africa and its descendants (a comprehensive account by Lomax's father, Dr. Mark A. “Ogunwale” Lomax, Sr. appears in the album's liner notes), outlines a mythic fable that sees chaos in the Kemetic divine community defeated by love and culminating in resurrection—a narrative mirrored by the recording. An obvious touchstone for the project is A Love Supreme: for starters, there's Bayard's tenor, which appears to pay homage to Coltrane in certain moments; plus there's the suite-like nature of the work itself, which also invites comparison to Coltrane's still-influential opus. The structure Lomax uses is different than the one used by Coltrane, however: Isis and Osiris strikingly intersperses four improvised interludes (two for drums and one each for bass and sax) in amongst the six longer settings, a move that gives the recording a distinctive quality that elevates it above a straightforward jazz set of covers and originals. The contrast that develops from having full group pieces and solo spotlights alternate also enhances the listening experience.

Its rhythmic elements drawn from traditional Nubian rhythms, the eleven-minute “Kemet” plays like an opening ceremonial that sets the tone for the composition as a whole. At times modal in feel, the piece begins with bold percussive flourishes before Bayard enters, upping the dramatic ante with his keening tone and freeform blowing. Halfway through, the trio settles into position and the music's bluesy side moves to the fore in the pied piper-like sax melodies that lead the charge. “Isis,” built around a theme Lomax composed as a part of his wedding suite, is Coltrane-esque in both the theme itself and Bayard's robust attack. And behind the saxophonist, a ferocious Lomax generates so much heat his drumming could power an entire metropolis (the leader's a veritable inferno elsewhere, too). Interestingly, the themes driving the bluesy “Osiris” and “Love” are similarly Coltrane-esque, though in this case the composer in question is Bayard. Speaking of ferocity, there's also “Chaos,” an aptly titled group improvisation, and the wild free-bop closer “Resurrection.” In addition to being thoroughly well-executed by the trio, Isis and Osiris is striking for being such an accessible piece of work. Jazz lovers will require little effort at all to warm up to its powerful musicianship and melodic content.

November 2014