Phoenix is the highly-anticipated, expansive new album in the musical evolution of alto saxophonist and composer Lakecia Benjamin, due out January 27, 2023, via Whirlwind Recordings. The multi-Grammy-award winning Terri Lyne Carrington produced the album, which features a star-studded lineup of specially curated guests Dianne Reeves, Georgia Anne Muldrow, Patrice Rushen, Sonia Sanchez, Angela Davis, and Wayne Shorter. The band comprises trumpeter Josh Evans, Victor Gould on keys, Orange Rodriguez on synths, drummer Enoch (EJ) Strickland, percussionist Nêgah Santos, and bassist Ivan Taylor. Trumpeter Wallace Roney Jr, Rhodes organist Anastassiya Petrova and bassist Jahmal Nichols all join for one track each.
“When we came out from the pandemic, we weren’t allowed to be broken,” Lakecia shares while describing the deeply personal outing Phoenix became for her. The record presents mostly original compositions written throughout the seasons: “we had to be these beautiful absorbent birds and get to work. I wanted to highlight each month of that.” By design, the compositions on Phoenix are written around the skillsets of her triumphant guests, a handful of women in jazz who have had prominent influences on Lakecia.
Sirens herald the start of the record on “Amerikkan Skin,” featuring American political activist Angela Davis as a guest. “New Mornings” was composed at the height of the summer: “it was burning up in New York, and I felt I was going through the same day over and over again,” says Lakecia, “but the only thing that reverberated or changed was the level of sadness I kept getting every time I woke up. I’d spend my time dreaming of other mornings in new times.”
The title track, “Phoenix,” features Georgia Anne Muldrow on synths and vocals. “For me, that was when I decided I had to find a new way. I figured I start with this track, trying to highlight that we’re coming out of this dark period and get on the dance floor,” Lakecia adds. The track “Mercy” features vocal megastar Dianne Reeves, who digs deep into the song’s message of kindness with her signature soothing vocal quality. Lakecia highlights pianist Patrice Rushen’s multi-genre aptitude with “Jubilation,” honoring an artist who teaches other women how to rise to an immense degree.
Tracks six and seven flow as a unit; the first part is a Haiku by poet Sonia Sanchez, and the Benjamin-original “Blast” features Sanchez again. “Moods” has a more traditional jazz and harder-hitting vibe, while “Rebirth” was composed as a personal tribute to Lakecia’s family who experienced several losses: “this is on the slower side, but it picks up at the end and has a more joyous feel.” ”Trane,” an ode to Alice and John Coltrane, also nods to Lakecia’s previous project. “Basquiat” is a suite inspired by the neo-expressionist artist and is preceded by a message from jazz giant Wayne Shorter. “He’s the ultimate guru,” says Lakecia, “it’s almost like he’s looking into your soul and only souls matter here.”
“I wanted people to not only feel what I’m saying through the songs and my saxophone but also verbally to hear it, so there’s no discrepancy on where we’re coming from,” Lakecia shares, explaining the concept behind her album, which is imbued with the spoken word. And there is no question that Phoenix marks yet another stratospheric rise for an artist who firmly knows what she wants to say and how to say it while honoring her mentors and the traditions that have come before her.