The album features de-facto band leader Isaiah Barr on alto and tenor saxophone, Austin Williamson on drums, Walter Stinson on upright bass, Spencer Murphy on electric bass, and Roy Nathanson as guest saxophone on four tracks. Though a group of New York mainstays also cross in and out of the Onyx Collective universe, often performing live with the band, including Nick Hakim, Princess Nokia, Dev Hynes (Blood Orange), Wiki (Ratking), Julian Soto and Felix Pastorius. Onyx Collective members quietly feature on a number of other artists’ records too, with Barr himself recently boasting 3 features on the new David Byrne album and making a cameo in Ibeyi’s live band for their performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
“Lower East Suite Part Three” has a much more ominous sound than previous Onyx Collective releases, reflective of the dissonance that accompanies life in the city. After being forced out of their original practice space due to rising rent, they relocated their headquarters to Magic Gallery on Market St, located in a gritty pocket of Chinatown by the East River. “When I wrote the record I was thinking about concepts like eviction and gentrification,” explains Barr. “The record is born out of the challenges of being in New York.”
While previous Onyx Collective releases have captured the band’s largely free flowing improvised nature, “Lower East Suite Part Three”, is made up for the first time with tracks that are almost entirely composed. “The record is a graduation for us - from not just having a microphone at a session and spontaneously recording”, says Barr. “This is us doing it on our own, with our own engineer, with a very low budget. That survival is really what I think jazz is: creating with your surroundings, and making something that's a picture of that.” Though the new music is more premeditated than the impromptu nature of their previous work, New York's deafening influence remains present. “To some degree it's controlled, but how much is it actually controlled?” continues Barr. “At the end of one of the songs you can still hear a siren from the street. Because we weren't in a professional studio, it's not a controlled environment. We're still in New York.”
The group are known for their impromptu performances in both rugged DIY spaces and esteemed clubs alike. Onyx Collective runs a manic energy through their classical training to create a show that at times feels as punk as it does jazz. Following a run of headline UK shows at the start of the year - which included playing to a full house at the legendary Ronnie Scotts - they return to the UK this Spring in support of Kamasi Washington, including a stop at London’s Roundhouse on 2nd May and a headline show at Electroworkz on 3rd May.
“Lower East Suite Part Three” is preceded by EPs “Lower East Suite Part One” and “..Two”, respectively released in October and December of 2017 on Big Dada, and follows the group's limited edition vinyl-only “2nd Avenue Rundown”, a collection of live recordings released via Supreme and Know Wave in 2016.
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