The Black Gold Orchestra, Genesis Review
Genesis Rising: The Black Gold Orchestra’s Audacious Journey Of Sounds
by Nolan DeBuke
Jazz is a vibrant genre, ceaselessly absorbing elements from contrasting musical worlds. Each generation crafts its own ever-evolving auditory journey, thrilling jazz enthusiasts anew. In this dynamic realm, The Black Gold Orchestra’s debut album, Genesis, stands out as a compelling testament to this tradition. Masterfully curated by the gifted GRAMMY-nominated producer and drummer Larry Wilson, Genesis carves its distinctive path in today’s jazz scene. It dives deep into the rich heritage of Black American music, magnifying and reshaping its nuances with the grandeur and intricacy befitting a modern big band ensemble.
The Black Gold Orchestra, hailing from Atlanta, Georgia, is a 19-piece powerhouse of a big band comprised of a harmonious blend of world-class musicians, artists, and educators. Many among them have collaborated with musical legends, including Stevie Wonder, Quincy Jones, and Prince. Their collective resume boasts performances on GRAMMY-winning and nominated albums, a testament to their formidable talent.
Formed in 2021 by Larry Wilson, the ensemble represents individual brilliance and a shared vision. The Musical Director, Melvin Jones, is at the helm, steering this colossal ship with a steady hand. Renowned for his exceptional grasp of various genres and innovative approach to big band jazz, Jones provides a direction grounded in tradition and daringly modern. Their dedication to music is palpable, making Genesis a culmination of their shared experiences, skill, and deep-rooted love for jazz and its multifaceted sub-genres.
“On The Move” starts with an arresting rock-inspired opening that captures attention with distorted guitar sounds and broad, expansive 5th chords, making its presence known immediately. The track’s straight-eight groove dances effortlessly between funk, Latin jazz, and modern jazz. The active and intricate melody bears a semblance to the quick agility of a be-bop head but adopts a modern jazz personality over a modal harmonic bed—akin to the textures we often find in soul and funk. The inclusion of the montuno figure is a clever musical tool, pulling listeners into the Afro-Caribbean domain. Saxophonist Mike Walton’s solo blends modern jazz intricacies with the emotive depth of the blues, while Melvin Jones’ trumpet cascades with an energy-filled arc. Kenny Banks Jr.’s piano solo layers the track with tantalizing textures, and the synergy between the ensemble and Wilson’s drumming during the call-and-response sections is nothing short of exhilarating.
“Midnight Oil” is an imaginative ride from the outset, with bold ensemble passages echoed by Wilson’s drums. The pedal tone serves as a musical anchor, building a crescendo of anticipation amidst brilliant counterpoints from the horn sections. The question of whether this ensemble can swing in the tradition of jazz greats is answered emphatically: They not only swing but do so with vigor. Michael Cruse’s trumpet solos dazzle, weaving together elements from modern and traditional bop phases. Banks’ piano maneuvers are a delightful playground of rhythmic and contrapuntal exploration. Harris keeps listeners hooked with his thematic approach. His solo? Evolving a motive. Pure technical mastery.
“Nutville Remix” draws upon the foundational genius of Horace Silver, a monumental figure in jazz composition. This foundation is further enriched by the intricate arrangement of Greg Hopkins, a luminary who’s left an indelible mark on the students and faculty within the revered halls of Berklee College of Music’s jazz composition department. As the track unfolds, Wilson’s drum parts, infused with hip-hop sensibilities, perfectly marry Latin jazz and swing, while his post-production touch modernizes without losing sight of its rich heritage. Guitarist Clay Benjamin’s cameo is nothing short of auditory delight. His tone, reminiscent of rock legends, intertwines seamlessly with lines that echo George Benson’s smoothness and Vernon Reid’s audacity, captivating listeners. But it’s Wilson’s unexpected keyboard solo that sounds of the album’s spirit—breaking boundaries and defying expectations. And as a finishing touch, DJ Majestick weaves his unique spins into the mix, delivering an electrifying solo section towards the song’s cadence.
The pristine and meticulous production respects each instrument’s integrity. Stars are allowed their moment in the spotlight, yet no single star overshadows the brilliance of the entire constellation.
Through Genesis, The Black Gold Orchestra takes listeners on a journey into the rich sounds and emotions of Black American music. In today’s cultural climate, this exploration is an essential educational expedition and serves as a reminder of the invaluable treasures held within jazz and its related genres and the importance of preserving, promoting, and expanding on these legacies.
In reflecting upon this musical odyssey, I’m reminded of a phrase often attributed to gardening: “To plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.” With Genesis, The Black Gold Orchestra plants seeds of hope for jazz’s future, ensuring its past and present stories are celebrated, understood, and treasured. As we approach a new chapter in jazz, The Black Gold Orchestra performs and shapes the narrative. For those seeking a transformative musical experience, Genesis awaits.