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deVon Russell Gray/Nathan Hanson/Davu Seru - We Sick (Innova/Composer’s Forum)

1 May 2023

Spontaneous composition often arises from a group of musical pals coming together for fun to bounce their talents off each other. But sometimes it’s a reaction, an artistic response to a situation or a moment in time. For We Sick, pianist deVon Russell Gray, saxophonist Nathan Hanson, and drummer Davu Seru recorded in an empty church across the street from the Minnesota State Capitol – a building surrounded by the National Guard due to the murder of George Floyd mere weeks before. Given the location and the atmosphere of the city, there’s no way that couldn’t have an impact on the music made. While circumstances may have been charged, though, that doesn’t mean the sounds spew out as aggressive chaos. Instead, it sounds like Gray, Hanson, and Seru take a more contemplative route – checking the ground, searching the air, looking for the reasons why this city, this country, this world finds itself in such a state of affairs. Gray and Seru create a restless backdrop, as if the ground is constantly shifting under the pressure of each new revelation. Hanson favors long, probing lines that sing, moan, and cry, doggedly traversing the new terrain with uncertain determination. The two-movement “Solve For Malcolm” encapsulates the feelings the musicians make manifest, but all of We Sick stands as a testament to how free improvisation equals the pure, unfiltered self-expression of being in the moment – even if that moment is fraught with tension and confusion.