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Khari Allen Lee – Conscious Evolution equals Soulful Vibrations

27th February 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

“I feel very much a child of New Orleans,” says Khari Allen Lee who celebrates the release of his debut CD, Conscious Evolution, at Snug Harbor on Thursday, March 1, 2012. He’ll lead the group The New Creative Collective with notables pianist Michael Pellera, bassist David Pulphus, drummer Geoff Clapp and trumpeter Ed Anderson who are heard on the expressive disc. (Pianist Fredrick Sanders also appears on the album.)

Though the saxophonist was born and raised in Tuskegee, Alabama, his family on his mother’s side hailed from the Crescent City and in his youth he was a regular visitor. “We used to come up and down the road all the time,” Lee, 32, remembers noting that his was a musical family—all of his mother’s siblings played musical instruments. It was also a Creole family as his grandfather’s father came here from Trinidad and his wife was a French woman. He describes his father as a great music lover and self-taught percussionist who encouraged him to check out the likes of saxophone masters John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.

Khari Allen Lee

After earning his degree in music education from Auburn University and a diploma from Boston’s Berklee School of Music, Lee decided it was time to take the “journey home.” “I wanted to continue my education and it was an opportunity to come closer to the culture and creativity of New Orleans,” Lee explains. He applied for entrance into the University of New Orleans’ masters program and was chosen to be included in UNO’s Louis Armstrong Quintet, an outreach extension of the program.

Lee landed here in 2005, two months before Katrina hit. After a period in Alabama, he returned to UNO when it re-opened in January 2006. “I felt the calling to come back and be a part of the rejuvenation and rebuilding of this great city,” Lee offers.

The saxophonist fully entrenched himself in the New Orleans music scene as a player, student and ultimately an educator. His real education, he says was performing with various musicians and bands that broadened his scope and musical language. He began playing with the Tremé Brass Band soon after the storm, an experience that expanded his songbook greatly. “I still have my hat, so I’m ready if they call,” he says with a laugh.

Lee’s resumé reflects his wide musical scope. On Conscious Evolution, he displays his exploratory and spiritual nature in a modern jazz setting on a host of original material. “The primary inspiration is life and our longing towards greater soulfulness in our experiences, greater harmony and peace and love in the world. It’s what we feel coming up in us,” he says.

That uplifting attitude is immediate apparent on the opening title cut that is at once complex and welcoming. The disc could be considered conceptual as each tune reflects what Lee describes as “soulful vibrations.” “We share creativity,” he says of himself and his bandmates. That element gets a boost from the album’s sound quality that allows listeners to hear each musician’s contribution with great clarity.

Lee credits UNO’s state-of-the-art studio, where the CD was recorded, engineer Nathan Weindenhaft, award-winning Patrick “JattyQ” Smith’s mix and his cousin, David “the DCX” Cochrane for his mastering ability.

Lee’s saxophone, be it alto or soprano, reigns with beautiful tone and spirit. Clapp’s drums pop, Pellera’s and Sanders’ single notes sing individually, the rich woodiness of Pulphus’ bass warms the environment and Anderson’s trumpet rings. Lee covers a vast range of expression in communicating his ultimate goal of unity and positive vibes.

Beyond heading The New Creative Collective, Lee blows in the reed section of Irvin Mayfield’s New Orleans Jazz Orchestra and Delfeayo Marsalis’ Uptown Orchestra and is heard regularly playing classic New Orleans jazz with trumpeter Jamil Sharif at Maison Bourbon.
On the education front, Lee spent an eye-opening two years teaching at the International School of Moshi, Tanzania at the foot of Mt. Kilimanjaro and presently is an instructor at the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). He’s found both experiences incredibly inspirational.

“Just being in Africa, being in touch with this place that is the root of civilization was inspiring,” Lee says, adding that the core element was connecting with the people and the land. “Every day when I’d wake up I looked out my window at the great Kilimanjaro. Oh, and they have brass bands there – they were huge. I said, ‘Man, I’m back in New Orleans!’”

It took awhile for Khari Lee Allen to land in New Orleans but when he arrived he was prepared to fully embrace the city that held so many family and musical ties. He came armed with talent, experiences, diplomas and an open attitude that allowed him to move between traditional, brass band, big band, modern and creative jazz. Perhaps most of all, he was ready to spread his “soulful vibrations” that stand as the heartbeat of Conscious Evolution.

Nickel-A-Dance Is Back

The great thing about New Orleans is that when it’s over, it ain’t over. One thing leads to another and now it’s again time for Sunday evenings to be filled with traditional jazz at the Nickel-A-Dance series. It starts really strong with drummer/vocalist Gerald French leading the Original Tuxedo Brass Band from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Maison, 508 Frenchmen Street. The historic ensemble includes all aces with trombonist Lucien Barbarin, bassist Richard Moten, pianist Larry Sieberth, reedman Tom Fischer, trumpeter Andrew Baham and banjoist/guitarist Detroit Brooks. This is real-deal stuff and it’s all free. Children and dance moves are welcome.

Gerald French, left, with Jesse Boyd on Bass. Photo by Demian Robert

The month-long series, which has enriched the scene since 1994, continues with drummer Herlin Riley on March 11, tuba and bassman Tom Saunders’ big band on March 18 and centenarian trumpeter/vocalist Lionel Ferbos wrapping it up on March 25.

This article was originally published in the February 27, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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