A visceral, moving and thought-provoking project, Freedom First is unlike most anything else you’re likely to hear in 2022. Against a varied backdrop of jazz improvisation (and sometimes more structured compositions, poet/ writer/spoken word artist Keith Lamar offers his ruminations on an array of weighty subjects. In that sense, the album is a musical cousin to Iceberg Slim’s Reflections. But where Slim was reciting semi-autobiographical takes that had one foot in reality and another in creative license, Lamar is the real deal. He’s incarcerated, an on Death Row.
Lamar’s vocal recitations were passionately declaimed down the phone line; the lo-fi character of those recordings seems wholly appropriate. And it’s strikingly set again supremely high fidelity jazz ensemble pieces, led by pianist Albert Marques. The music isn’t often easy (though it’s sometimes quite tuneful), and that, too, seems completely apropos considering the circumstances under which the project was made.
A representative track is “Alabama.” The instrumentation seems to meander freely, then the players lock into a soulful groove. As a listener, you might find yourself thinking, “Okay, here we go.” Then it goes off the rails without warning. Kinda like life, right?
A project such as Freedom First truly requires documentation and contextualization. And the liner notes that accompany the disc provide that and more. It’s a troubling, inspiring, musically and lyrically beautiful, important project that’s both stark and finely-wrought. It’s a thing of power, and it’s worth your time.
For more info, visit Justice for Keith Lamar.