The Black Gold Orchestra, Genesis Review
A Symphony of Unity: Black Gold Orchestra’s Debut Album Genesis
by Stamish Malcuss
Jazz is a musical genre celebrated for its innovation and assimilation. At a time when the expanding influence of this art form can lead to an increasingly fragmented musical landscape, The Black Gold Orchestra’s debut album Genesis emerges as a unifying force. Led by GRAMMY-nominated producer Larry Wilson, this 19-piece big band, based in Atlanta, explores a rich array of jazz styles and extends its reach to other genres. In doing so, they create a project that is both historically grounded in jazz and ambitiously forward-reaching. With a mission to bridge generational, socioeconomic, and even racial gaps, Genesis transcends being just a collection of compositions; it stands as a cultural statement that fosters unity through exploration and dialogue.
From the onset, Genesis is a celebration of big band jazz—it is a voyage across a diverse musical landscape that includes jazz, R&B, soul, hip-hop, house, rock, blues, and gospel. Songs like ‘Midnight Oil’ and ‘The Creation’ serve as prime examples, paying homage to the traditional structures and techniques of big band jazz, while revitalizing the format with modern voicings and innovative rhythms. This fresh approach is a testament to GRAMMY-nominated producer Wilson’s compositional flair. Grounded in tradition yet open to modern sensibilities, the ensemble’s youthful energy elevates these elements into something timeless and timely.
The album’s generational reach is particularly evident in ‘On The Move,’ a genre-defying celebration that makes a joyful noise by fusing electronica, hard rock, funk, and jazz. Individual performances further contribute to this expansive scope. For example, saxophonist Mike Wilson’s use of effects lends a modern edge, while trumpeter Melvin Jones channels soul and funk influences. These details not only highlight the ensemble’s technical prowess but also emphasize its mission to blend different musical elements into a cohesive narrative—a strategy that has the potential to cross racial or cultural boundaries.
The Black Gold Orchestra does not shy away from pushing the envelope while retaining the sanctity of each genre they explore. This careful balancing act is evident in ‘Merging Lanes.’ The track starts with a funky, hip-hop-infused jazz groove, laying a foundation that trombonist Herman Spearman and baritone saxophonist Jamel Mitchell build upon with their emotionally resonant solos. As the piece escalates, it culminates in a bebop-inspired saxophone soli that evokes the sound of the great Thad Jones Mel Lewis big bands. This performance showcase the ensemble’s technical ability and commitment to respecting traditional forms and pushing musical boundaries.
The Black Gold Orchestra does not shy away from pushing the envelope while retaining the sanctity of each genre they explore. This careful balancing act is most evident in ‘Merging Lanes.’ The track starts with a funky, hip-hop-infused jazz groove, laying a foundation that trombonist Herman Spearman and baritone saxophonist Jamel Mitchell build upon with their emotionally resonant solos. As the piece escalates, it culminates in a bebop-inspired saxophone soli that evokes the sound of the great Thad Jones Mel Lewis big bands. These individual performances showcase the musicians’ technical ability and exemplify the ensemble’s commitment to respecting traditional forms and pushing musical boundaries.
It is essential to mention the sheer musical skill and diverse styles that grace this album. The ensemble boasts a collective resume that includes some of the biggest names in music and entertainment, and this expertise is evident throughout Genesis. Many Solos are carefully constructed narratives. For instance, trumpeter Michael Cruse’s solo in ‘Midnight Oil’ is an adventure through complex jazz structures. Jones, featured in ‘On The Move,’ integrates elements of soul and funk into his trumpet lines, while Kenny Banks Jr. exhibits rhythmic dexterity on the keys on multiple selections. Not to be outdone, the ensemble’s leader, Wilson, contributes multiple melodic drum solos that engage the listener with energy and groove. These are displays of technical expertise and artistic statements that showcase the rich musical backgrounds of each artist.
Genesis is a highly musical debut album; it’s a well-crafted listen encased in layers of intricate rhythms, complex melodies, and soul-stirring harmonies. This album reflects the ensemble’s broader mission to serve as a bridge—across generations, musical genres, and perhaps even the cultural gaps that divide us. As a compelling testament to the power of music to unify, Genesis invites us to begin a journey toward collective harmony.