Written by Monica Staton
CD Review: Isaiah Collier “The Unapologetic Negro”
Isaiah Collier – Saxophones, piano, vocals
James Wenzel – Upright bass
Marcus Evans – Drums
Collier’s sound is unapologetic: he doesn’t acknowledge or express any regret on his latest recording. There are long solos, an elegantly sparse sound. There’s no pianist or guitarist, leaving the listener to focus on the dialogue between the bassist, the saxophonist, and drummer.
The musical landscape is stretched. Typically, upright bassists play a four-stringed instrument. In this recording James Wenzel plays a five-string bass. In contrast, Collier often plays soprano sax reaching higher notes—creating a middle space that is only occupied by the drums. Everything becomes melody, a consistent dialogue.
A jazz novice would appreciate this recording because of its intensity. A jazz aficionado would appreciate Collier’s pristine harmonic depth and his drift into complete freedom. I found a deeply personal and emotional Collier. I felt his goal on this recording was to give listeners a grounding that would allow them to explore the music more on their own.
Isaiah Collier’s The Unapologetic Negroconsists of a live recording from Cafe Coda in Madison, WI on February 2, 2019. The sax trio interprets eight original compositions of the Chicago-born musician, now twenty-one years old.
“Retrograde Amian” is a ballad reminiscent of Coltrane’s “Naima.”Collier’s sound ranges from a full tenor sound bearing comparison with that of John Coltrane, to an airy sound like that of Pharoah Sanders. He does this without compromising his own identity.
The composition “Closed Doors” is a contrafact of some sort of McCoy Tyner’s “Contemplation”—a new melody written over an existing standard. The soprano solo leads to a heated musical conversation between drummer Marcus Evans and Collier.
“5874 (We Want Justice Right Now)”is a two-part composition starting with an uptempo blues. The first solo is taken by Marcus Evans. He later comes back with a long trading section with Collier where he takes eight bars of drum solo and the sax takes four bars in a back-and-forth parley. Throughout the whole recording Evans plays a key role in the creative input of the trio. His distinct and warm drum sound only makes his statements stronger.
In the second part of the piece, saxophonist Collier starts playing the piano behind Wenzel’s bass solo. Wenzel takes risks pushing the limits of his bass. This creates a liberated atmosphere where trust becomes a key element in the music. Finally, the band begins a chant, “We want justice right now,” involving the audience.
In this moment in history there continues to exist a disillusionment with justice. The exploration of freedom and equality are back by popular demand—and the discussion reveals itself in Collier’s The Unapologetic Negro.