3X GRAMMY Nominee Lakecia Benjamin to Release First Live Studio Album, Phoenix Reimagined (Live), on July 12, 2024 via Ropeadope

Transcendent performance boasts three new songs, including the title track featuring John Scofield, Randy Brecker and Jeff “Tain” Watts  

New York, NY- May 24, 2024 – First announced on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, and following her week-long stint sitting in with The Late Show Band, 3x GRAMMY nominated star alto saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin returns with her first-ever live studio album, Phoenix Reimagined (Live), due out via Ropeadope on July 12, 2024

To witness a live performance by the alto saxophonist, MC, and bandleader Lakecia Benjamin is to never forget it. 

The success of her most recent releases, 2023’s Phoenix and 2020’s Pursuance: The Coltranes, positioned Benjamin among jazz’s most celebrated recording artists: In addition to absolute raves in outlets like The New York Times, The Guardian and DownBeat, she received three Grammy nominations for Phoenix, as well as an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Jazz Album. 

And yet — the ever-rising star from Washington Heights remains, at her core, an improviser best experienced in her soul-stirring concerts. Each and every time she hits the bandstand, she takes her repertoire, and her wide-ranging audience, to sublime new planes. And her message — of spiritual uplift, of social and political liberation — soars higher still. 

“I’m trying to make sure everybody has a good time, that they feel free to express whatever emotions they have in that moment,” Benjamin says. “If I have to shift or move to emotionally connect with my audience or touch them, I’m open to all those options.” 

Given Benjamin’s personal story over the last few years, her live dates are nothing short of life-affirming. In 2021, she was involved in a car accident that resulted in more than one potentially career-ending injury: Benjamin broke her jaw, shoulder blade and ribs, and ruptured an eardrum, among other wounds. Today, she’s regained her confidence and physical strength, and embraces whatever limitations her accident may have engendered. She also realizes she has decades more music and travel to go. “I don’t think about the accident anymore. Some people might see my shows now as a victory lap, because inspiration comes in multiple forms,” Benjamin says, “but I really feel I’m still learning. I’m trying to get uncomfortable. I’m trying to grow. I’m trying to play better.”

Benjamin’s new album, Phoenix Reimagined, focuses on the music from her acclaimed Phoenix project and adds three new songs. It was captured live-in-studio at Brooklyn’s the Bunker — a great-sounding space whose alumni include everyone from Brad Mehldau to Bang on a Can to the Black Keys. Combining the spontaneous magic of a live LP with the crisp, crystalline audio that only a world-class studio can deliver, Phoenix Reimagined illustrates that vibrant togetherness between Benjamin and her live listeners. In the case of the Bunker show, that meant pretty much anyone who adores music as much as she does. “I was like, you know what? Let’s celebrate life. Let’s celebrate everything. I’m going to invite everybody to this studio,” Benjamin recalls with a chuckle. “The studio personnel were lucky I didn’t just open the door!” The atmosphere took the saxophonist back to her earliest years hitting the NYC jam-session scene: the heat, the camaraderie, the competition, the hard-earned lessons. “It just reminded me why I love music,” she says. 

The packed-out crowd was privy to an all-star quartet Benjamin assembled to record the title track, featuring guitarist John Scofield, trumpeter Randy Brecker and drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts. The composition hit Benjamin as a flash of inspiration the night before the gig. Crafted specifically with this legendary band in mind, it ranks among the most compelling tunes in her catalog — a postbop burner worthy of a classic ’60s Blue Note session. “People think I have a list of musicians I want to play with that takes up a wall in my house,” Benjamin says, “and it’s true!” On her Phoenix album, Benjamin was able to collaborate with some of her greatest heroines: Angela Davis, Sonia Sanchez, Patrice Rushen, Dianne Reeves, Georgia Anne Muldrow. “‘Phoenix Reimagined,’” Benjamin explains, “highlighted some of the men that I’ve looked up to and wanted to meet.”

Her first interactions with Scofield were especially memorable. Part of her duties as the Monterey Jazz Festival’s 2023 Artist in Residence included a performance at the annual festival gala, alongside Scofield, Reeves, Herbie Hancock, Christian McBride and other masters. After the gala rehearsal had wrapped, and all the other veteran greats had gone back to the hotel, Sco stayed behind to chat. “He said, ‘Hey man, you kinda got the gas turned all the way up,’” Benjamin recalls. “And I said, ‘Yeah, I do.’ And he was like, ‘Yeah — you’re kind of like me.’”

Benjamin seems to share that simpatico creative bond with everyone she takes the stage with, especially the core group that joins her here: pianist Zaccai Curtis, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer E.J. Strickland. “All the things I experience, on the road and in life,” Benjamin says, “they’re experiencing it as well.” Other favorite collaborators appear on “Mercy” and the new “Let Go,” two songs that soulfully bridge the R&B-to-jazz gap. On the latter, the singer Melodie Ray embellishes Benjamin’s entrancing, cathartic spoken-word, as bassist Richie Goods and pianist Ray Angry center the groove; guitarist Kat Dyson throws down a solo worthy of Santana. Melodie Ray, a standout member of Benjamin’s Soul Squad, adds powerful dramatic depth. “We have an incredible vibe,” says the saxophonist. “She’s genre-less: She can soul, she can funk, she can country, she can jazz.” 

The program covers the breadth of the Benjamin live experience. Songs like the politically trenchant “Amerikkan Skin” and the new “Peace Is Possible” underscore Benjamin’s status as one of the only truly genuine jazz-rap artists in either genre; in her politically insightful spoken-word and rhymes, you can hear a brief history of Black poetry and hip-hop, from Angela Davis and Jayne Cortez to Roxanne Shante and MC Lyte to Q-Tip and Kendrick. Elsewhere, she reiterates that she’s the rare alto saxophonist — along with Kenny Garrett and her mentor Gary Bartz — who is capable of carrying the torch for the school of John Coltrane. (She already proved herself in this regard on Pursuance — a profound tribute album that understood how the story of John Coltrane is actually the story of the life John and Alice Coltrane built together.)

On her original homage “Trane” and “My Favorite Things,” Benjamin is positively explosive, tapping into the Coltranes’ indomitable spirit while exploring her own fervently ruminative phrasing. Not surprisingly, the first jazz concert recording that Benjamin can recall listening to is John Coltrane’s Live at the Half Note. “The Coltranes have an urgency in every recording you hear,” she explains, “to get better at what they’re trying to do. They have an urgency to keep relating to people and keep touching people and keep growing and keep finding out how they can be better.” Without a doubt, you could say the same for Lakecia Benjamin. 

Phoenix Reimagined (Live) releases on July 12, 2024, via Ropeadope and is a highlight for the label which is now celebrating 25 years. 

Tracklist: 

  1. Intro – Live (01:11)
  2. Trane – Live (05:48)
  3. Phoenix Reimagined – Live (07:19)
  4. Let Go – Live (04:53)
  5. Mercy – Live (04:42)
  6. Amerikkan Skin Intro – Live (01:23)
  7. Amerikkan Skin – Live (03:23)
  8. Peace is Possible – Live (01:56)
  9. New Mornings – Live (05:12)
  10. My Favorite Things – Live (06:45)
  11. Spirit – Live (05:06)

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