BIRCKHEAD is the self-titled debut album that takes its name from saxophonist, Downbeat Award-winner and Lauryn Hill touring band alum, Brent Birckhead. Joined by bassist Romeir Mendez, pianist Mark Meadows and drummer Caroll Dashiell III, Birckhead presents his first full-length release as a leader. The BIRCKHEAD album is driven by the boundless musical aesthetic of the The BIRCKHEAD Quartet. Rooted in activism, introspection and sonic experimentation, the eleven-track album provides a schema for unflinching ownership of oneself through singular artistic works. With it, Birckhead is poised to take his place in a storied lineage of maverick woodwind artists.
An introduction to the man and his music, the eponymous release is named to reflect Birckhead's desire that his first formal offering serve as a bold statement of purpose comprised of deeply personal compositions and punctuated by his preferred mononym. With it, he enforces a profound sense of duty to propagate a rich musical legacy and catalyzes a reclamation of personal identity through calculated efforts to redefine his family’s given surname. First employed as a mechanism to specify colonial ownership of his enslaved ancestors, the word Birckhead becomes a benchmark for dynamism that surpasses the conventions of subjugation and challenges standards of popular music by the advent of the album of the same name.
Recorded during one six-hour session and driven by topics as varied as love, familial history and the fraught nature of the modern black experience, Birckhead is an album that is split down the middle thematically. The tracklisting is partially inspired by events dominating the news cycle while other pieces focus on Birckhead’s “family, growth and perspective.” Guitarist Samir Moulay and trombonist Corey Wallace also contribute to the recording, which boasts the Freddie Gray-inspired “Suite 187”; the mournful trio of songs about the impact of state violence and the subsequent onset of trauma introduces listeners to the lifespan of a tragedy. The suite opens with a cadence of drum strikes that simulate the sound of gunshots before the melody blooms into riotous pandemonium on “The Witching Hour.” Birckhead closes with a cover of “Someday We’ll All Be Free,” popularized by Donny Hathaway. The song is a nod to human rights movements and the inevitability of freedom.
“I think it’s true in all facets, but especially for the black experience. I think we’re always seeking freedom in every way that we can. We’re always trying to experience things externally and find things externally, but the real freedom is found internally. In dealing with those things that we don’t want to deal with within ourselves so that we can live freely without worry about what other people think. Without worry about being equal. Like why do we have to think about being equal? That’s something that other people never have to do. We have to think about being equal. Not even better, but just equal. Nobody else has to go through that. I think we’re going through the same experience globally.”
“4 And 6” is the sonic embodiment of the philosophical and societal shifts that Birckhead envisions. The futurist tune is buoyed by a conversational melody that suggests differing perspectives and encourages problem solving in a climate of inaction and resentment as dissonant chords melt into one unified voice at the theme. “Flux” is a tune that pulls inspiration for its evocative tone from the Ahmad Jamal classic “Poinciana.” Album opener “3 Uptown” recalls Birckhead’s move from Brownsville, Brooklyn to Harlem, where he first felt a part of the fabric of New York City. “Song For Nicole” is a tender ode to Birckhead’s wife, Christian Nicole. It opens with a whisper-soft prelude that descends from honeymoon bliss into an impassioned flood of emotion that lays bare the depth of their union. “The Alchemist” recalls the Paulo Coelho book of the same name about the power of manifestation –– a key component of Birckhead’s success. “Ivory Antidote” references the middle name Birckhead proudly shares with his grandfather, which inspired the release.
“Ivory Antidote” is one that I wrote for my grandfather. It’s about family legacy. I share the name Ivory with my grandfather. It’s my middle name. As you know, we don’t carry our family names from thousands of years ago like others do. Our names in Africa or here don’t necessarily mean where we are from. Europeans know where they are from and what their ancestors’ trade was from their last name. That’s something that’s missing for people of African descent, so this tune was about reclamation and making your name (whatever it is) your own. Starting here. This is our legacy. I was going to call the album ‘Ivory Antidote’ but ended up wanting to call it BIRCKHEAD because I think that’s a spin. This is about legacy and this is me.”
Pooling their respective dialects, the quartet plays from the opening note with a fluidity that suggests the members of the group are used to finishing each other’s statements. The BIRCKHEAD album finds them uninhibited in their embrace of experimentation, a diversity of musical genres and provocative topics. From the rage of punk and political activism to the nuanced soul of classic r&b, the murky wobble of funk and the unbridled freedom of out jazz, BIRCKHEAD captures fearlessness as deftly as it encapsulates a sustained effort to live a purpose-driven life. Birckhead describes the project as a culmination of his experiences to date.
It’s a culmination of my musical experiences. It’s a realization of self and coming of age experience that I hope people are able to receive and listen to without judgment. To be free in their experience with the music and just listen to it straight through. That’s the way I composed it, so you can listen to it from top to bottom. And I want people listening to it to be joyful. I want them to be happy and reflective. All of the emotions that went into the album. Hopefully it will broaden someone’s perspective and make them listen to something they wouldn’t normally listen to. It’s a jazz album that melds genres to create a project with something for everyone to listen to and still feel like they’re listening to acoustic music. This is an acoustic album that contains a number of emotions and perspectives.
released February 22, 2019
Recorded by Bob Dawson for Bias Studios
Mixed by Tariq Khan for Highbreed Music
Mastered by Josh Kessler for Bushwick Studios
Executive Producer: Brent Birckhead
Produced by Brent Birckhead, Tariq Khan
Album Art Giordoni Garcia
Album Photography Kasia Idzkowska
Brent Birckhead- Alto Saxophone
Corey Wallace- Trombone (1,3,4,7)
Samir Moulay- Guitar (1-3,5-8)
Mark Meadows- Piano and Fender Rhodes
Romeir Mendez- Acoustic Bass
Carroll Dashiell lll- Drums
All Compositions by Brent Birckhead except Someday We'll All Be Free (D. Hathaway, E. Howard)
Brent Birckhead is an award-winning saxophonist, whose aesthetic is an intersectional amalgam of traditional and popular styles. The Lauryn Hill touring band alum presents his debut release, BIRCKHEAD.
Ever since this came across and I took a chance on its intrigue, this has been one of those albums I knew I would absolutely be owning forever. It's such a mesmerizing, cohesive piece and once the symphony steps in, it becomes utterly transcendent. It's one of the best pure pieces of music I've ever heard. I hope one day to hear a live performance, even if it's local musicians and a symphony, just to hear it in that space. giventofly87