Kemet: The Black Land
Release date: June 23, 2023
Label: Outside in Music
Trombonist, composer, arranger and educator Dr. Javier Nero issues his exuberant sophomore recording, Kemet: The Black Land featuring The Javier Nero Jazz Orchestra. The album meditates on Kemet, the ancient Egyptian, highly-advanced Black civilization. Mesmerized by the great society, which was the birthplace of higher education among bounteous pillars of western ideas and democracy, Nero presents his sweeping new enterprise in the spirit of the prosperous, and often historically overlooked, land of Kemet.
Nero was first made aware of Kemet by his two older brothers – the siblings found the idea of an advanced civilization of Black people compelling. This notion challenged the typical American narrative about African people, a conversation which all-too-often tends to be centered around the transatlantic slave trade. Through the recorded output on Kemet, Nero redirects listeners from myopic western conceptions to a more rich and glorious part of history, turning the page back many millennia and re-imagining a place where free-speech and collaboration were cardinal approaches to advancing life.
Like Nero’s 2020 debut, Freedom, which was lauded for its transcendence of cultural boundaries, Kemet augments similar themes, specifically the Kemetic decree that ideas and information should be shared freely. “The discipline of music, specifically jazz, prides itself in its amalgamation of diverse cultural elements to forge something new of beauty,” Nero exclaims.
Nero’s blending of styles on Kemet yields metamorphic tunes of conflict, freedom, yearning and contemplation. His fervent melodic refrains on trombone are augmented by core ensemble members: pianist Josh Richman, drummer Kyle Swan, and bassist William Ledbetter. Special guests include trumpeters Sean Jones and Randy Brecker, vibraphonist Warren Wolf, saxophonist Tim Green, and vocalist Christie Dashiell.
Nero espouses “When I think of Kemet, I envision luxurious landscapes of golden sand, immense structures, vegetation, rivers, and people, living, eating, and playing music harmoniously together. Kemet represents the beauty humanity is capable of through the free and uninhibited exchange of ideas and information. This album represents my family, my experience, and my musical influences. My African roots, my European roots, my Native roots, my Hispanic roots and a bit of that inexplicable human experience we all share. I now offer to you the summation of those experiences, in sound. I’ve combined some unique musical elements together on this album, and I hope they come out sounding golden to your ears.”
The music on Kemet: The Black Land uses many African rhythms combined with a very typical western harmonic structure and near-symphonic orchestration style. The composer was inspired by the lush sounds of a wind ensemble in his arrangement process. A common musical theme on this release is the use of the pentatonic scale. The scale itself is a through-line connecting many different cultures – the 5 note scale is found in the tribal or traditional music of Africa, Europe and Asia. Nero’s writing entwines elements of soul, folk and Americana into a sound that is strongly rooted within the jazz idiom.
Compositions such as “One Day”, “Time” and “Kemet” incorporate a trance-like minimalism that reflects that of African and Middle-Eastern music. “One Day”’s lyrics explore the duality of the great potential of our society if we decide to work together, versus what will become if we decide not to.
“Randy Brecker, and Sean Jones are both musicians I grew up listening to and transcribing. It was an honor to have them play on the album. I’ve taken quite a bit of influence over the years from the Brecker Brothers compositions and playing,” Nero indicates. Brecker lends his masterful melodicism to the composition “Nostalgic Haiku”.
Regarding Sean Jones, Nero remarks “[his] playing and music is inspiring in the same way. Sean’s sense of melody and harmony was a perfect fit for my music. I feel as if we are kindred spirits musically, and naturally paint with the same color palette so to speak. His natural style as a soloist was a perfect match for my compositions. You can hear that especially on my compositions “Discord”, “Kemet”, and “Jam #3”.”
The ensemble’s core group of drummer Kyle Swan, pianist Josh Richman and William Ledbetter lend their stunning interplay to Nero’s compositions – celebrating each nuance of his masterful songwriting. Nero notes “Kyle Swan was a key element in making this happen. He is another kindred musical spirit – Kyle made the band feel comfortable playing complex music while still exemplifying technical prowess and artistry on the drum set throughout the whole album.”
Kemet: The Black Land imbues a message of hope to all who listen, it is a sonic representation of what Kemet was and what the world could be – a place of harmony, and an exchange of ideas that lead toward commonality. The release firmly cements Nero’s stature as one of the prime composers, arrangers and instrumentalists of our time.
Release date: August 7, 2020
Label: Outside in Music
“All music, but particularly jazz is the ultimate example of the beauty that can be created by learning from and appreciating disparate cultures. Jazz is the ultimate expression of freedom.”
- Javier Nero
Inspired by his multi-cultural ancestry, and amidst the current politically-fuelled times, trombonist, composer, arranger, and educator, Dr. Javier Nero has found himself ruminating upon the word “freedom” and what it means to him. Blending jazz with elements of folk, Americana and blues, this twelve-track collection of genre-spanning originals displays the bandleader’s desire to establish the greater good of humanity as the top priority in today’s socio-political spectrum. On Freedom, the NYC-based trombonist is joined by Tom Kelley (saxophones/flute), Melvin Butler (saxophones), Jean Caze (trumpet/flugelhorn), Tal Cohen (piano), Dion Kerr (bass) and Aaron Kimmel (drums). Javier is thrilled to also welcome special guests, Grammy Award-nominated pianist Shelly Berg, Grammy Award-winning trumpeter Brian Lynch, vocalist Lauren Desberg, guitarist Russ Spiegel, vibraphonist Kyle Athayde, and percussionist Murphy Aucamp. Ahead of the release of Freedom, track 8 “Discord” will be released as a single on June 23rd, followed by “Crystal Lake” on July 7th.
With the release of Freedom, Javier Nero strives to encourage human cooperation, through which individuality and identity can then be elevated. With ancestral roots of African, Western European, Native American, and Hispanic descent, Nero recognizes the importance of exploring and exhibiting one’s true, authentic personality. In a complex society that so often forces conformity to cultural norms, Javier reflects upon how challenging it can be to realise individual freedom and expression. Growing up in a middle-class white neighborhood in Washington State, the trombonist faced discrimination from both the black and white communities. To Javier, refusing to separate skin color from culture is the fuel of racism - rejecting to see human beings as nuanced individuals rather than as an amalgam of the intersection of the groups they belong to, will likely perpetuate a vicious unending cycle destined to repeat itself.
“We are all complex individuals that should not be ruled by what others think we should be, or think we should believe. I certainly do not believe my ancestors who fought for freedom and equality did so hoping to find themselves limited or forced to conform to myopic cultural norms, and social pressures on the other side of the battle.”
Freedom is a collection of original compositions written at various points during Javier’s career thus far. Composed just days after graduating from the Juilliard School, the title track is a triumphant and nostalgic opus which features a melody evocative of the Western-European tradition, and American patriotic music. The song melds elements of Americana, along with the blues, as well as African rhythms. Other standout tracks, written during his time at the NYC conservatory include “Just Let Go”, “Reality” and “Midnight Groove.” While at the University of Miami, obtaining his Master’s and Doctoral Degrees, Javier majored in composition/arranging. It was during this time that the composer took an in-depth look at the timbre and textures of the instruments created through orchestrational techniques. This study went on to yield an array of dynamic compositions including “Crystal Lake” and “I Tried So Hard.” Similar to “Just Let Go”, “I Tried So Hard” is an attempt to convey through music the feelings of hopelessness, anger and resentment that so often become apparent during the final days and in the wake of a relationship. Track 8, “Discord” in which the composer reflects upon the naivety of young love, is due out as the lead single from the album on June 23rd. To be released as a follow-up single on July 7th, “Crystal Lake” is a sonic representation of a beautiful lake in Miami, Florida. Reflecting on his time living upon the waterfront, Javier explains how this track attempts to capture both the beauty and mystery of the water.
Exploring the emotions, topics and sounds experienced by humanity, Javier Nero offers the music on Freedom to anyone who wishes to enjoy the beauty of human collaboration. This music is not reserved or intended for a person of any particular color, or for anyone that holds any particular political or philosophical stance. Javier believes that, “choosing sides is not choosing truth. Choosing black over white, or white over black, is not choosing truth. True freedom is being defined by each of our own unique, nuanced, and individual characteristics. True freedom is casting off the societal mold and being and expressing our true selves.”
for Kemet: The Black Land
"...a tremendous album of the week in the pentatonic soaked Kemet (The Black Land) - the spectacular sized up sound of the Javier Nero Jazz Orchestra." Check out the feature here.
"Think in the stylistic playing lineage of Blue Train's Curtis Fuller and Curtis walking with the spirits talking with the spirits always counts it's as if the baton has been passed on: Conceptually referencing Kemet, the ancient Egyptian black civilisation, the pentatonic soaked Kemet (The Black Land) is one of the best arranged and composed modern-mainstream albums that we have come across in a long time." Read the full review here.
BEST OF JAZZ
"...Javier Nero manages to take us on a delightful cruise through these floods of grandiosity, fertility, and freedom..." Read the review here.
DEE DEE MCNEIL
"JAVIER NERO JAZZ ORCHESTRA is a beautifully composed and well-played orchestra project that explores Kemet, a highly advanced, black civilization." Read the review here.
ALL THAT'S JAZZ
"One of the most intriguing albums we’ve recently encountered is also the subject of our conversation with one of our most intriguing guests." Read the full review here.
ALL THAT'S JAZZ
"Javier Nero pays homage to a highly advanced African civilization that flourished before the Egyptian kingdom was established and thousands of years before the Greek and Roman empires that are hailed today as the pillars of modern/western culture. " Read the full review here.
KEVIN LE GENDRE
"Trombonist Javier Nero scales up in more ways than one following his 2020 debut Freedom. Instead of a small group he now leads an orchestra on Kemet: The Black Land, a reference to ancient Egypt whose advanced civilization has inspired numerous artists from Steve Coleman to Shabaka Hutchings via Erykah Badu." Read the full review here.
"A listen that spans conflict, freedom, yearning and contemplation, you can tell a lot of work went into this listen, and it certainly resonates long after the music stops." Read the full review here.
KEVIN LE GENDRE
"Featuring the excellent vocalist Christie Dashiell, the music, which is based on a strong Afrocentric premise, shows how engrossing the blues can be in a sophisticated, at times densely layered, setting." Check out the full article here.
LAST ROW MUSIC
"Nero’s first album introduces the world to his music, thoughts, and styles that make him an up-and-coming artist in Jazz today. His use of harmony is on-point while still embodying a beautiful and stirring melody. By pulling together a talented group of artists, one hopes to hear more of Nero’s unique voice in many albums to come." Read the full review here.
BRENDA NELSON - STRAUSS
"Freedom is a stunningly mature and cohesive album that displays phenomenal musicianship from all members of the ensemble – an auspicious debut for Javier Nero!" Read the full review here.
"While the album has some genre-bending moments, this is principally a straight-ahead jazz effort, filled with inspired solos, shifting tempos, and mostly highly lyrical turns from all." Read the full article here.
"It’s a post-bop fest that swings and zings the ear with contrapuntal surprises and a fervent ardor for all things positive. We need this guy!" Read the full review here.
"These collaborations confirm once again that music transcends cultural boundaries."
Read the full review here.
"Inspired by his multi-cultural ancestry, trombonist/composer Javier Nero ruminates on the word “freedom” and what it means to him on his forthcoming album." Read the full article here.
LET'S CALL THIS
"Caribbean rhythms keep everything moving and Nero’s chops and control impress." Read the full review here.
"A multi culti trombonist serves up an original program of jazz based multi culti music, just what his particular doctor ordered for these miasmic times." Read the full review here.