Saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins shares brilliant new single “Warriors” from debut album Omega, out in August
Last week, saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins shared “Warriors,” a brilliant statement of purpose. “It’s about friendships, family, your hood, and your community,” he says. “It’s about us serving as warriors for whatever we believe in.”
The single comes just a few weeks ahead of Wilkins’ debut album Omega, produced by jazz piano luminary Jason Moran, out August 14th on Blue Note Records. The album, Wilkins says, will reckon with themes of trauma, compassion and solidarity through original compositions inspired by the killings of Black Americans and the fight for Black liberation.
Wilkins, just 22 years old, grew up in Upper Darby and studied jazz at Philadelphia’s Clef Club and the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts before studying at The Julliard School in Manhattan from 2015 to 2019. Throughout the last five years, Wilkins has contributed to recordings and performances by Solange, Wynton Marsalis, Gretchen Parlato, Bob Dylan, and so many others. Most importantly, his quartet — Wilkins on alto saxophone, Micah Thomas on piano, Daryl Johns on bass, and Kweku Sumbry on drums — has built a reputation as one of the most spellbinding young bands in contemporary jazz. It’s this same quartet that appears on Omega, intrepid and unflappable.
Though “Warriors” represents a fight, the tune stays motivated by love. Wilkins introduces the refrain himself and pulls the band along with him, unspooling elusive melodies like twine, validated by deep, languorous chords in the piano and bass. Thomas and Wilkins shadow each other closely, as in many of Wilkins’ tunes, while Johns’ shifty bass lines complicate the sense of push and pull that their sweet melodies establish. Later, the piano and saxophone solos bring the dazzling blend of aggression, poise, and relentless curiosity that makes this quartet so notable. Even with all of Sumbry’s thrust, “Warriors” maintains a more steadfast commitment to traditional swing than many of Wilkins’ other compositions, which often incorporate grooves inspired by gospel and fusion. The track’s surprise ending comes with a dash of studio magic, as the ring of the cymbals and saxophone flip backwards, and a few delicate notes on the piano hint at another composition just beginning — this might mean Omega will flow like a typical concert by the quartet, with the band in perpetual motion and hardly a breath between tunes.
According to Wilkins, this new music represents a continued commitment to his own principles: “The idea around ‘Warriors’ was from thinking about the people around me, the strength they had and the commitment to their own mythologies. I’m not too much into astrology but I’m a Leo and we’re known for our extroversion and outspokenness, so for me there’s always been an unwavering consciousness for what I believe in. […] It’s kind of an ode to the people closest to me and how we fight as a united front for certain things and fight individual battles for other things.”
Wilkins felt totally comfortable in the studio with Moran and his longtime bandmates, which he says made it “surprisingly easy” to complete the album in two days. “Usually on other people’s debut records that I’ve played on there’s always a level of anxiety that I peep out from the bandleader — just by the way in which the pressure moves throughout the days to produce something ‘great’ but I didn’t feel that all during the session, I think probably because I have deep relationships with everyone involved — Jason Moran gave me one of my first big tours, and the band members are my best friends.”
Immanuel Wilkins’ debut album Omega comes out August 14th on Blue Note Records. Below, find a video of his quartet performing “Warriors” at the Jazz Gallery in New York in 2018. More recently, Wilkins played on vibraphonist Joel Ross‘s stellar debut album Kingmaker from last year.