I Insist is the debut as a leader for Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist, composer, and educator Kazemde George. The title is to both signify an emphatic statement and a nod to Max Roach’s landmark 1960 protest album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. George has previously released a series of electronic beat tapes under the moniker KG, B. but is no fledging saxophonist either, having completed a Harvard/New England Conservatory joint program in 2014, earning a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology and a master’s degree in jazz composition. He later received a Fellowship to study music and Afro-Cuban percussion in Havana for nearly a year. This deepened his knowledge of the African diaspora, and he learned Spanish as well. He relates, “all these places where Black people have been –it is the story of everything in the Americas. The process of getting to where we are no involved a lot of people being moved around. That story is really interesting to me.”
George was born to an immigrant Jamaica mother and Guyana father and was raised in Berkeley, California. More of his intentions can be gleaned from the liners but his intent is to corral the many aspects of his background to deliver a salient message, which he says this way, “I’m Black, I’m studying African American music, and I didn’t make these choices randomly. Music tells a story, and people carry their culture with them. I learn about these things intentionally and create an amalgam of these stories, these histories. To me, building that within myself is all part of the dame struggle, spreading the message. Alluding to the sentiment of We Insist! is important to me at this time in history, and its’ in the background of my music, even if the point’s not being made explicitly.”
George’s quintet includes Sami Stevens (vocals), Isaac Wilson (Wurlitzer, piano), Tyrone Allen II (acoustic bass), and Adam Arruda (drums). The album opens with “Things Line Up” with Stevens and George in unison on the melody with solos from the leader while Wilson comps on the Wurlitzer, an instrument he plays on most tracks to simulate the feeling of a live gig where acoustic pianos are often not available. Arruda’s drums are prominent are this opener as is Allen who also solos. “Coasts,” a feature for Wilson, further highlights a warm tenor tone and the sympatico rhythm section. “Balance,” one of four with Wilson on acoustic piano, swings hard while Stevens returns, singing original lyrics on the teeming, melodic “Skylight,” with Wilson remaining on the acoustic.
“Haiti” was originally laid down as a looped electronic bear from the KG, B Soundcloud, but translates here, thanks to Stevens’ vocals, Wilson’s funky Wurlitzer, and the leader’s jagged saxophone lines. One can easily envision a scene of Haitians dancing. The title track is a contemporary fusion-like piece with George blowing liquid lines and Wilson stretching out on the Wurlitzer to a steady groove. Around the five-minute mark, George gets more aggressive in his solo, taking the piece into a more ‘tenor titan’ territory before returning to a more lyrical, melodic statement of the theme.
“Happy Birthday” has Stevens singing her original lyrics in a somewhere between a midtempo and downcast groove, a twist on the usual celebratory tone associated with the title. The quintet (sans Stevens) then embarks on the disc’s lengthiest track, the ten minute “Parkside,” an exploratory piece, beginning solemnly but building into a swinging groove, as if to commemorate lives lost, perhaps inspired by Ted Fink’s book, Incident at Parkside. Again, George is in full command of his horn, soaring above Wilson’s comping. The pianist returns to the acoustic for the up tempo “This Spring” and on the closing album highlight, “Understanding,” which carries a Cuban changui-inspired groove.
These Black and Caribbean connections are integral to who George is. As a quick study, he intends to learn Haitian Creole and Portuguese next as he strives to elevate communities of underprivileged youth through music and cultural education. Based on this auspicious debut, he is well on his way to taking those steps.