Every decade, young jazz artists are anointed improvisational pioneers, but their styles never quite reach the free-jazz experimentalism of 50 years ago, when Ornette Coleman and Albert Ayler rewrote musical rules. This year, 22-year-old Zoh Amba from Kingsport, Tennessee, is upending the NYC scene with ensemble performances that serve as a reminder why free jazz often is called “skronk.” Her compositions are complex and occasionally lovely, but she’s not afraid to use a tenor saxophone as a weapon.
Last year, Amba released O, Sun and O Life, O Light Vol. 1, both on John Zorn’s Tzadik label, with guest appearances by Zorn and bassist William Parker. A third recording was made in 2022, but not released until mid-January. Bhakti (Mahakala Music) features a quartet of Amba, pianist Micah Thomas, alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and drummer Billy Drummond. It offers a full range of dissonant blasts and ethereal light sax trills.
It would be an understatement to say Amba is rocking the New York underground music scene, bringing along pianist Vijay Iyer, members of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs or drummer Chris Corsano to gigs. A recent performance tied to the imminent release of Bhakti gives clues about the excitement generated — tinyurl.com/sixty35-hear-1.
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