With his second album, the 22-year-old alto saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins takes up the most pressing social concerns of his black fellow US citizens, which have been smoldering for countless years. After the unbelievably brutal murders of unarmed blacks in recent months, of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery by police officers, those concerns violently unleashed in the Black Lives Matter movement in an atmosphere of co-responsibility on the part of the government. True, Omega came into being before the current event, the cowardly murder of George Floyd, which triggered the Black Lives Matter Movement, being met with a worldwide response. Since the hate-based attacks on the black US population are almost part of folklore for a nationalistic part of the white US population, there were also corresponding attacks like the unspeakable one hundred years ago, as for instance the cowardly lynching of the pregnant Mary Turner and her unborn child, to whom Immanuel Wilkings dedicated the title "Mary Turner - An American Tradition" on Omega, which deeply moves the listener even without words through its ballad-like composition that traces the lynching process. The same applies to the murder of the unarmed black teenager Mike Brown Jr., who also finds his echo in Omega with "Ferguson - An American Tradition". This title captures the pulse of the population in 2014 when Mike Brown Jr. was shot and killed by police officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, MO. Wilson was not charged, which fueled the anger of the community. Wilkins tells the story in reverse with the elegiac moments that preceded the riot after the first shots were fired. The piece becomes more intense as it unfolds with the dialogue between piano and drums, which is intended to orchestrate a revolution.
To deal with this theme, which has meanwhile hit the heart of most of the US population, on an album, is a sign of a profound politicization of this fundamental evil of the supposedly freest country on this planet, and also of the fact that the musicians of the quartet that Omega has formed have recognized the need to deal with, spreading the theme through the medium of jazz. Alongside Immanuel Wilkins, pianist Micah Thomas, double bass player Daryl Johns and drummer Kweku Sumbry, all of whom are similarly young musicians of the very first order to Wilkins himself, form the quartet, which has now been active for several years and has in the meantime formed an incredibly perfect unit.
The musical centre of Omega is a four-part, 20-minute suite entitled "The Key", "Saudate", "Eulogy" and "Guarded Heart", composed by Immanuel Wilkins during his training at the Juilliard School, New York in 2013. "The Key" introduces the suite in a contemplative manner, then leads on to the "Saudate", which meanders over solos by the musicians. The main character here is the saxophonist, who takes the title to its climax. The melodically softly introduced title "Eulogie", which ends in the solo of the drummer, picks up speed in the further course of the piece through the full commitment of the pianist, to finally culminate in an explosive solo of the saxophonist. "Guarded Heart" is introduced by the drummer with a wild drum roll, which triggers a stormy solo by the saxophonist, to which the rest of the quartet joins in with rousing improvisation.
Omega is an album with powerful, emotionally charged music, delivered by a quartet that plays at an incredibly high level and inevitably carries the listener along from track to track.
Immanuel Wilkins, alto saxophone
Micah Thomas, piano
Daryl Johns, double bass
Kweku Sumbry, drums