Jazz that fucks with punk, soul, pop, rock, and hiphop.
The catchiest tune of the year, “Saying Goodbye (to Rainbow Socks and Hair Dye),” at the Genius Awards.
One night while watching D’Vonne Lewis playing with a trio at the Vito’s lounge, it occurred to me that he just might be the most talented musician in Seattle. Raised by a family with deep roots in Seattle’s black American musical tradition, Lewis, a jazz drummer and the founder of the quartet Industrial Revelation, is not only a highly refined drummer, a drummer who has a complete command of his instrument, but also a drummer who has somehow managed to preserve at the core of his technical brilliance something that is like the initial, primal pleasure of the act of beating. If one listens to the great jazz drummers of the canon (Elvin Jones, for example), this raw instinct is pretty much gone. Theirs is a drumming that aspires to begin and end with mastery. Lewis, on the other hand, never lets his technical prowess completely erase the path that leads all the way back to that first joyful moment when one hits and hears the tautness of a drumhead. This is my impression of his musicianship in general and also the reason why I think he stands above all other players in this rocking city.
Lewis founded Industrial Revelation in 2005. It was, he once told me, the R & D (research and development) wing of his jazz career. And as a company or a country must subsidize its risky, failure-prone R & D programs, Lewis subsidized the time he spent on IR with income generated from his professional gigs. He had no idea where IR would go, what kind of music they would finally make, or whether it would work out. He just wanted the band to be as open as possible to different styles and ideas, and he placed it at the center of all of his other more traditional obligations. Nothing, he said to me again and again, was more important to him than IR. And as it was at the center of his career, he is at the center of the band’s sound. This, I think, is one of the important elements of IR’s greatness. It has its foundation in a drummer. And with black music, it is always drumming that separates one genre from another. We know house from the “four-to-the-floor” beat, classic hiphop from the “boom bap” beat, go-go from the go-go beat. The drum style names the music.
Nine years after forming this R & D program, Industrial Revelation won a Stranger Genius Award. The achievement is all the more impressive because the other nominees, Erik Blood and the founders of Hollow Earth Radio (Amber Kai Morgan and Garrett Kelly), were very strong contenders for the prize. Certainly one reason Industrial Revelation prevailed is that Lewis’s R & D project is not just about him but is instead a creative collaboration with three other extraordinarily talented local musicians. IR might begin with Lewis, but it does not end with him.
The band’s bass player, Evan Flory-Barnes, is a giant in his own right. One will spend a lifetime trying to find a jazz musician in this town who has something bad to say about Flory-Barnes. And with good reason. This bassist has achieved a level of mastery where the boundary between the musician and the instrument is practically absent. Indeed, one cannot even imagine Flory-Barnes doing anything else but playing the upright bass, and can’t imagine the upright bass doing anything but Flory-Barnes. This is not empty praise. Anyone who has watched him perform knows what I’m talking about. Like Lewis, Flory-Barnes has a reputation that’s firmly established outside of IR.
The same is true for Josh Rawlings, the band’s keyboardist. If you have not heard him play with this or that local jazz or soul act, then you have certainly heard him perform with the biggest name in hiphop today, Macklemore. But if you really want to hear the deep roots Rawlings has in America’s classical music (jazz), I really recommend downloading the Josh Rawlings Trio’s Climbing Stairs, which was released in 2008 and, judging from Rawling’s liner notes, was a kind of musical dissertation of his education at Cornish College of the Arts.
Then there is Ahamefule J. Oluo, the band’s trumpet player. What this musician and composer brings to the house that has its foundations in Lewis’s drumming is a sound that’s at once passionate but expresses a great amount of sensitivity. I might be wrong about this, but I think there are primarily two types of jazz trumpeters: those who blow outward and those who blow inward (Freddie Hubbard represents the former, and Miles Davis the latter). Oluo’s playing does not blend the two but instead moves between them from moment to moment, from track to track. Oluo is also a talented composer, a fact that was made clear at his 2012 Town Hall performance of his musical Now I’m Fine. (On the Boards is presenting the musical again this winter—December 4 to 7.)
It’s safe to say that without the contributions of these three musicians, the man who I believe just might be the best musician in (let’s expand the area) the Pacific Northwest would not have won the Genius Award in Music.
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