L.A. Buckner Celebrates and Examines His Home Town
“Churchy, voiciferous, gripping, seasoned, heartfelt, dense, cinematic, stirring” these are the words that drummer, composer, and educator Arthur “L.A.” Buckner uses to describe his 2020 album BiG HOMiE, which drives home every one of those characteristics with fiery passion. This album is like a feast for the ears- at once invoking the sounds of our childhood, of our time, and of a community. Through their cheeky references, subtle touches, and triumphant moments, Buckner and his band ecstatically invite the listener into their world.
The Twin Cities
The two focal points here are the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul Minnesota, where most of the musicians hail from, and the influence of gospel culture, which permeates this album. While the Minneapolis sound championed by Prince is not deliberately invoked here, the eclectic nature of that sound is represented in James Patrick Horigan’s cutting, rock-inflected guitar sound, the layering of keyboards, guitars, and synths to create a rich sonic atmosphere, and of course the presence of percussionist Stokley Williams of the band Mint Condition- heroes of the Minneapolis music scene.
Other Minnesota musicians include bassist Ethan Yeshaya, , organist and worship leader Darnell Davis of the Remnant, synth mastermind Rodney Ruckus, jazz violinist Ernest Bisong, and finally recording & mixing engineer Jason McGlone. With their distinguished pedigree and diverse backgrounds, they are the reason Buckner characterizes his album as “seasoned”.
Gospel & the Black Church
On PBS’s Sound Field web series, for which L.A. Buckner regularly provides content, the drummer identifies the Black Church community as a primary source of mentorship. “Aretha Franklin, Beyoncé, D’Angelo, John Legend, Anderson .Paak…what do they all have in common? Like countless other Black musicians, they all gained their foundation and love for music through the Black Church and the music it birthed- gospel”. We can see this influence in the joyous rendition of Richard Smallwood’s “Total Praise”, but also in the playful references to other kinds of music. Buckner explains “it’s this cross-pollination of genres that makes gospel music so adaptable to the times and gospel musicians so versatile- we play it all”.
Because he recognizes that encouragement and mentorship as major factors in his development, Buckner has dedicated this album to all the people who have taught him about music and life- whom he calls his “big homies”. The dedication is a testament to Buckner’s selfless and humble nature, which is not to be confused with shyness, as this album is the antithesis of timid. Buckner’s love of music, lust for life, and joyous approach to his craft shine throughout.
The album kicks off with a soulful rendition of Beyoncé’s “Déjà Vu”, on which pianist Jacob Dodd soars. Contrary to the “jazz” label applied to this album, its charm lies in how the musicians groove together and communicate- rather than in individual solos. When one performer steps out of the texture, it is to serve the whole- a role each soloist fills in a very satisfying way. “Déjà vu” features the first of many raucous drum solos from L.A. Buckner, who says of Jason McGlone’s mix “please believe…the drums are right in your face”. Buckner commands the band like a sorcererdriving home each melodic statement with an exciting flourish.
This muscular drumming is on full display on Buckner’s original “Oowee”, which features a bass and guitar intro reminiscent of D’Angelo’s Black Messiah, a “lazy” drum groove like you might hear on those classic Soulquarians records, and a delightful earworm of a horn arrangement provided by trumpeter Aaron Janik. Another Buckner composition, “Ddun” offers an impressive jazz fusion-oriented atmosphere with percussion by Stokley Williams, polyrhythms abound, vast, spacious production, and a shredding solo by Horigan. Next, Darnell Davis eases us into “Total Praise” with a soulful organ intro. Ethan Yeshaya beautifully states the melody on bass and, in keeping with the cheeky nature of the album, the “amen” at the end is replaced with John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”.
Heartfelt, Dense, Cinematic, Stirring…
Jacob Dodd provides two originals that, due to their strong melodies and groovy hooks, are both the kind of songs you feel like you’ve always known somehow. On “Bday Party”, the drum breaks showoff how the band breathes and grooves as one. “Cocoa Butter” draws on the sing-songy nature of an old jazz standard, and hook that sounds like a mid-2000s pop song (in the best way).
Dodd’s tunes bookend the most memorable track on the album- an inventive interpretation of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”. Instead of straight covers, Buckner and his band prefer to riff on parts of the song they’re referencing and discover new expressive possibilities. Yeshaya states the melody against a backdrop of wicked-sounding free improvisation and is repeatedly interrupted with eruptions from the rest of the band. Part of the chorus has been turned into a recurring vamp with a euphoric backbeat. This album offers no shortage of moments in which one can’t help but raise a hand and sway.”. Finally, the string introduction from the original version appears as another vamp for the band to really let loose on.
Although not entirely about social commentary, the album does include some more current, socially conscious music, such as a rendition of Kendrick Lamar’s “Untitled 05” affectionately titled “Kdot”. Detroit saxophonist De’Sean Jones uses multitracking and effects to invoke Kamasi Washington and Terrace Martin’s spiritual outbursts, plays a melody similar to Miles Davis’ “Nardis”, and provides the kind of frenetic solo he’s known for. The riff from Kendrick’s version has been converted into another vamp, during which the band closes out the album with a flurry of sound. This where the album really expresses what L.A. Buckner has to say about our socio-political landscape.
When talking about Minneapolis, one cannot ignore the events that have made the city a battleground in the fight for social justice in recent years. Because he cannot divorce his art from his experiences as a Black man, Buckner asserts that the album is a statement about the Black struggle “ I’m using this record as an OUTCRY….YELL…SCREAM…of passion…justice…and FREEDOM (from) oppression”. It is not only in the anger of this final track, but also in the joy and vitality of the rest of the album that Black humanity is shown for what it is- beautiful, diverse, constructive, loving, passionate, and worthy of our respect.
Within a week of its release, BiG HOMiE reached #1 on iTunes’ jazz chart, which is well deserved, because it represents the best of what American music has to offer. It is an expression of reverence for the past and a musical community, and a call to action for artists to seek new vistas, make serious statements, and keep loving what they do.
Support L.A. Buckner
You can stream BiG HOMiE today on any platform. You can also follow L.A. Buckner on Instagram and Twitter @L2theAY.
Some of the quotes above are from the PBS web series Sound Field. I highly recommend this Youtube channel for exciting educational material, so please visit, like, and subscribe.
More reviews of new music are available at The Fusion Press
- Deja Vu (Beyonce)
- Oowee (Buckner)
- Ddun (feat. Stokley Williams) (Buckner)
- T.P. (feat. Darnell Davis, Ethan Yeshaya, Rodney Ruckus) (Richard Smallwood)
- Bday Party (Dodd)
- Human Natutre (feat. Ernest Bisong) (Michael Jackson)
- Cocoa Butter (Dodd)
- Kdot (Untitled 05) (feat. De’Sean Jones) (Kendrick Lamar)
- Ernest Bisong (violin)
- Arthur “L.A.” Buckner (drums, drum programming, percussion, leader, composer)
- Darnell Davis (Rhodes/Hammond B3 Organ)
- Jacob Dodd (piano, composer)
- James Patrick Horigan (guitar/moog)
- Aaron Janik (“Oowee” horn arrangement)
- De’Sean Jones (saxophone)
- Jason McGlone- (recording & mixing engineer)
- Rodney Ruckus (synths)
- Stokley Williams (percussion)
- Ethan Yeshaya (bass
- Title: BiG HOMiE
- Year Released: 2020