Feature/Interview (PP)

Logan Richardson ‘Afrofuturism’ – (album released on Whirlwind Recordings)

With his new album, “Afrofuturism”, Kansas City-born alto saxophonist Logan Richardson has started to achieve a number of long-held ambitions. He describes his processes, methods and objectives to Martin Longley:

Logan Richardson. Photo King Richmond/ Whirlwind Recordings

Right at the beginning of March, the Kansas City alto saxophonist Logan Richardson played a very rare gig. Very rare during the last year, anyway. His usual existence has involved being out on the road full-time. Richardson appeared at Szczecin Jazz, a six-day Polish festival in that north-east city, which has been running since 2016. He fronted the Jazz Forum Talents, a collective that formed as a result of a 2019 showcase by Poland’s leading jazz publication. Jazz Forum continues to support these younger Polish players and composers. The gig took place in Opera At The Castle, a modernised insertion within an old Szczecin edifice. Richardson didn’t overly dominate, becoming at one with the ensemble spread, providing a few tunes, and soloing prodigiously and articulately on the works penned by the Talents. He and I chatted before and after the performance, anticipating the release of the new album Afrofuturism, which also marks a fresh signing to Whirlwind Recordings, in an arrangement with Richardson’s own imprint, Wax Industry.

Moving to Rome in 2017, Richardson had spent five years in Paris. This Euro-phase came after a decade or so in NYC, which was itself preceded by Berklee-studying in Boston. The last time that I caught Richardson onstage was also in Poland, during the Jazz Jantar festival in Gdańsk, as part of trumpeter Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah’s marathon two-hour 2019 set, nimbly speeding throughout most of its duration. In earlier years, there were also impressive NYC shows with organist Lonnie Smith’s Big Band, at the Jazz Standard club (2010), Richardson’s phrasing sensitivity found over intense soloing durations, and in that same year, a stirring set at the Iridium, in a double bill with pianist John Escreet. All of these gigs displayed Richardson’s impressive facility as a mainline sideman, but his recent solo works have evolved beyond, into a highly personalised expression of ambient soundtracking, attuned to narrative constructions where the impact of entirety is more significant than any separated details. Several of the tracks on Afrofuturism feature Richardson almost literally solo, as he works on layering with piano, keyboards, synth-sounds and often radically effected saxophone parts.

“The interesting thing is that with the Blues People album [2018] I started this process of taking segments and pieces of produced tracks that I was doing in Logic,” Richardson explains. “That’s where a lot of the bites and different ideas came from, aside from what I wrote directly in the studio. For this project it was more full-in, not only using Logic and Ableton [software] tracks for ideas, and then having the band take them and do something with them, but actually having it be part of the direct core ensemble. Afrofuturism was that first dive into where everything spread out from the production of the songs. Even in the studio, I would play the track, and everybody would play with the actual produced track. It’s way free-er, because you don’t have to be in this tight recording mode. I can take the music, and sit with it for months, putting a saxophone part down much later.”

Even in the early years, Richardson would still have made a rougher ‘demo’, then written it out via Sibelius software. Now, he’s using actual recording as a notebook, like a painter would build up layers on a canvas, from wiry lattices up to blooms of colour and depth. Richardson has also made a pronounced shift from acoustic to electric palettes. “I’m becoming more romantic with the various timbres of the orchestra, so to speak. With the instrumentation, it’s very important to have as much of an ambidextrous format as possible.” He’s talking about the left and right hands of acoustic and electric.

Richardson has long been accustomed to composing at the keyboard, then moving to saxophone at a later stage in the process. “I’m really addicted to the piano and keyboards in general,” he says. “So I write 99% on the keys and synths. Then everybody came in and they breathed the life into it. It’s developed in terms of recording, and actually using the template in open form.”

Richardson actively wanted to form a band around the Kansas City scene, with Blues People mostly comprised of artists hitherto not so well-known outside Missouri: Igor Osypov (guitar), Peter Schlamb (vibraphone/keyboards), Dominique Sanders (bass/production), Ryan J. Lee (bass/drums) and Corey Fonville (drums), the latter hailing from Richmond, Virginia. Also involved on several Afrofuturism cuts are the Italian singer Laura Taglialatela and the Turkish cellist Ezgi Karakus.

Richardson’s sound on Afrofuturism evokes a cinematic, narrative nature, short snippets acting like cues in a movie, longer pieces letting the music extend into a swirling wash of multiplexity, reminiscent of Ornette Coleman’s Prime Time sonics, which frequently combined criss-crossing free-form complexity with an ambient miasma of sheer abstract expression.

Richardson has long been interested in the art of soundtracking. “I feel like I can naturally do it, I love film a lot.” He also thinks that it’s quite difficult to enter that particular musical world, as though it’s some kind of magical circle. He mentions details in the mixing and mastering of Afrofuturism, where his engineer tracked down the original Vangelis synth-settings on the Blade Runner soundtrack, to use in the shaping of reverb on a saxophone solo, sculpting it in a virtual zone. Richardson is a science fiction acolyte, so perhaps that particular genre would be eminently suited to his output. There has certainly been a run of such films in recent times, featuring striking and atmosphere-seeping soundtracks, including Mandy, Archenemy, Possessor, and the Watchmen series.

“Also, I like the album to be like a book, listening to the whole album for it to make sense.” Richardson is aiming for a feel of continuity…both within an album, and beyond, into a sequence of related releases.

He’s very pleased to have signed up with Whirlwind Recordings, and has known mainman Michael Janisch for around a decade. Richardson is in the midst of a highly productive phase, although not necessarily driven by any lack of live action. He actually has a vision of a sharply delineated album cycle, using these current collage methods. “It’s imperative that the urgency is clear,” he says, running through the recent toll-list of Chick Corea, Ralph Peterson Jr., Stanley Cowell, Wallace Roney, McCoy Tyner and Junior Mance, the latter of whom was one of Richardson’s teachers at The New School in NYC. “The urgency, which is always there, is overwhelming, at this point. We don’t have any choice but to be furious in our art.”

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LINKS: Afrofuturism at Bandcamp 

Album Review  by Tony Dudley-Evans

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