Marcus Strickland Credit: Petra Richterova photo

On April 30, to close out Jazz Appreciation Month, jazz singer, producer, director and AUDELCO award winner Rome Neal is heading up another first as he becomes the first jazz artist to open at the Betty Carter Auditorium of the Arts housed in the Major R. Owens Health & Wellness Community Center (1561 Bedford Avenue), Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

Neal will be joined by an all-star cast featuring saxophonist Patience Higgins, pianist Andre Chez Lewis, bassist Yoshi Waki and drummer Phil Young. Join Neal as he strolls through some Monk tunes and well-traveled standards with his own unique interpretation.

The new community center named after the longtime U.S. Representative Major Owens, is a state-of-the-art recreation facility and swimming pool with a mural dedicated to Brooklyn’s own two-time Olympic medalist swimmer Lia Neal (Rome’s daughter).

Eric Woodlin, director of community engagement, noted the late musician’s family gave them the rights to use the legendary singer’s name. “As the center progresses, we look forward to engaging more Black theater groups and live music performances,” said Woodlin. “We are happy to have Rome as our first jazz performer to inaugurate our Betty Carter Auditorium.”
Neal’s performance culminates on the last day of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Consortium’s 23rd annual Jazz Festival.

For tickets visit the website https://www.eventbrite.com/…/the-rome-neal-quintet…

The saxophonist/reed player, composer and producer Marcus Strickland has come a long way since arriving in New York City (23 years ago) attending the New School with his twin brother drummer E.J. and earning a reputation as a young gun while becoming a first call saxophonist. He received a call from iconic drummer Roy Haynes to join his Fountain of Youth Ensemble where he did a five-year stint. “I played with everyone I ever dreamed of playing with,” says Strickland.

The concept for his band Twi-Life was a result of him touring with Haynes playing bebop and working out rhythms and beats on his laptop. “I came up with Twi-Life, the two sounded like fusion coming out of jazz but when I got moving it crystallized into its own thing,” explained Strickland. “In this group I can be all that I am. This is a genre-less group we play all music, Black American music.” The group is a creative cross-section between jazz, Pan African rhythms, Afro Cuban Afro-pop, R&B and hip hop as inspired by the J Dilla aesthetic of intricacy, “drunk drumming” and tonal nuance.

On Strickland’s “Nihil Novi” (Blue Note 2016), he was perfecting his hip hop inspired production, blurring the genres with some assistance from eclectic producer, songwriter and bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. “In the process, something big happened: I was no longer concerned about what is or isn’t jazz,” he says. “I got rid of those barriers and started on this path.” On his last album, “People of the Sun” (Blue Note/Revive Music 2018), Strickland blazes down a trail (that had been buzzing in his head since growing up in Miami) with his zealous Twi-Life on a cultural music mission following the African diaspora from present to past in an effort to understand the complexity of Black identity. The album includes the haunting track “On My Mind” featuring vocalist Bilal, Pharoahe Monch and Greg Tate spoken word with deep vibrations coming from Strickland’s bass clarinet.

This will be the saxophonist’s tenth release as a leader following: “People of the Sun” (2018), “Nihil Novi” (2016) on Blue Note Records; “Triumph of the Heavy, Vol. 1 & 2” (2011), “Idiosyncrasies” (2009), “Open Reel Deck” (2007), and “Twi-Life” (2006) on his own music label Strick Muzik (launched in 2006); “Of Song” (2009) on Criss Cross Records; “Brotherhood” (2002) and “At Last” (2001) on Fresh Sound Records.

Strickland and Twi-Life forthcoming release, “The Universe’s Wildest Dream” raises awareness about the miracle of planet Earth combined with Pan African beats and other genres of Black music. “I figure if there’s any message that can recruit more earthlings to acknowledge, comprehend and take action towards global warming and sustainability, it is the realization that we may be the only planet that harbors life, that we are probably the universe’s wildest dream,” stated Strickland. The music is a result of the saxophonist being isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic. “There were no Ubers and no gigs for me to rush to so while on Instagram I was introduced to some farmers. The conversations led me to do my own research and eventually realized Earth offers us the epitome of love,” explained Strickland. “This environment thing is very deep and needs to be supported and the capitalists and colonialists should be exposed.” During the 2020 lockdown Strickland (producer) and drummer Charles Haynes (co-producer) were shaping the concept and sound for this album. The lyrics and titles swing in a spiritual existence giving praise to Mother Earth and our existence in this cosmic universe. “I wanted the project to look like it sounds including the explicit artwork by Langz Raphael which makes the project all inclusive, music and art together.” The graphic design was done by Strickland.

The album’s music is coming from an Afro-Futuristic dimension of sound. A movement first acknowledged by the musician, composer, poet and cosmic philosopher Sun Ra. “We want to go into the future, not the past,” says Strickland. “We are here to move forward and make things better. The record is about the MACRO and how special we are on the planet.” His longtime abled Twi-Life members (since 2013) include; Mitch Henry on keys, piano and organ; bassist Kyle Miles; drummer Charles Haynes and Strickland on soprano, alto, tenor saxes and bass clarinet. Guests include; guitarist and vocals, Lionel Loueke, vocalist Christie Dashell (on “Matter”) and Ras Stimulant with invigorating dialogue on “Infinity.”

Following his last two albums, Strickland is independent again and is funding “Universe’s Wildest Dream” through Kickstarter. “Kickstarter makes the audience and fans active participants in this record-making process from the ground level. Contributing to Kickstarter is a direct link to the artist,” said Strickland during a recent phone interview. “The model for the music industry has changed, they have taken away our physical commerce but these digital platforms have given us more power. Independent musicians are winning Grammys, where there is void there is opportunity.” This fundraiser supports the vinyl pressing and publicity campaign. Release date set for August 2022.

From my seat this album will be mentioned in the same sentence as the groundbreaking albums of Pharoah Sanders’ “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” Donald Byrd’s “New Perspectives,” or Miles Davis’ “Jack Johnson.” “We can do so much together piece by piece to save the planet,” says Strickland. “It sounds naïve but we are a powerful force when united in the same cause, the same struggle.”

To be a part of this most important project visit kickstarter.com/projects/marcusstrickland/the-universes-wildest-dream.

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