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A Great Week in Cleveland, Part 2: Moor Mother, Lonnie Holley, Lee Bains and Mourning [A] BLKstar

Moor Mother
Moor Mother photo by Samantha Isasian

Eleven months ago, A.J. Kluth was at New York’s New School at a conference presented by Black Quantum Futurism, the literary and artistic collective created by Philadelphians Rasheedah Phillips and Camae Ayewa, the composer and poet who performs as Moor Mother.

“That was my first time meeting Camae and really feeling like the work that the collective was doing [and] that she was doing as a musician was deeply important and urgent,” Kluth said on a video call earlier this month. “I said, ‘I would love to bring you to Cleveland sometime.’ She’s like, ‘That sounds cool. I’ve never been to Cleveland. Let’s do that.’  But she’s really busy. She’s got a really heavy touring schedule and it didn’t seem plausible.”

AJ Kluth
AJ Kluth

Several months of phone calls, planning meetings and grant applications later, the Case Western Reserve University musicologist’s implausible idea has become reality, and a reality greater than even he imagined.

On Friday evening, Moor Mother will be joined on the stage of Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art by Lonnie Holley, Lee Bains, and the Cleveland-based collective Mourning [A] BLKstar for a presentation Kluth called “Toward a Different Kind of Horizon, an extraordinary collection of artists who to varying degrees are associated with the cultural movement known as Afrofuturism.

Kluth, a musician himself, had been recording with Kyle Kidd, M[A]B’s longtime vocalist who had been touring with Moor Mother in Europe. “I was hanging out with [M[A]B’s] RA Washington, and Kyle at the time, thinking it would be incredible to have some kind of collaboration and recommit to Cleveland in some capacity,” Kluth said. “I didn’t know what that would look like.”

Lonnie Holley
Lonnie Holley

What it might look like came into sharper focus last August when Holley played the Grog Shop with M[A]B on a bill that also included fellow Alabamian Lee Bains & The Glory Fires. “It struck me like, wow, that would be amazing,” Kluth recalled. “What if it was Lonnie Holley and Mourning [A] BLKstar and Moor Mother? That would be an incredible thing, right?”

And perhaps a homecoming of sorts for the ideas that form the wellspring of Afrofuturist thought and action. RA Washington pointed out that Cleveland is, “a city that had two race riots, a city that is one of the most segregated in the world, a city that had a very interesting lineage within black radical movements and had very, very, very deep left-radical white movements. And so this place is rife with the energy of creation and increase in exploding concepts and myths–and myth making.”

RA Washington and LaToya Kent
RA Washington and LaToya Kent photo by Nat Cherry

While Washington sees little value in pinning Afrofuturism to a definition, saying that “it starts to get a little bit dicey,” his fellow M[A]B member LaToya Kent offered one of her own.

“For me, it means what does it look like for us to survive and live in the future with everything that we have in our bag? And how do we take that into another stratosphere,” she said. “That can look like how we eat our agriculture. It can mean art. It can mean fashion. It can mean where our minds are, how we’re expanding ourselves beyond what we know we have at this at this very point in time or what we’ve had in the in the past . . . like how we raise new beings into a different paradigm.”

Though there’s no firm agreement on what Afrofuturism might mean, there’s little doubt that it is having a moment—a moment that “Toward a Different Kind of Horizon” will celebrate.

On the title cut of Irreversible Entanglements’ 2021 release Open the Gates (International Anthem/Don Giovanni, 2021), Moor Mother declares, “It’s energy time” to horn fanfares over a driving six-beat rhythm.

“You know, Albert was born here,” RA Washington said, invoking Cleveland’s own godfather of Afrofuturism. “And so we’re gonna make a joyous noise on Friday in the city of Albert Ayler.”

Toward a Different Kind of Horizon: Moor Mother, Lonnie Holley, Lee Bains, and Mourning [A] BLKstar Friday, March 24, 7 p.m., Gartner Auditorium, Cleveland Museum of Art, 11150 East Boulevard, Cleveland. free, reservations available here.

Trading Fours

There’s never a bad time to get out and commune in the same room with creative musicians. Below are four musical events of interest in the coming week that you might want to check out.

Michelle Lordi Quartet
Thursday, March 23, 7 p.m.
HÜG, 133 Merriman Rd., Akron (tickets)

Moor Mother isn’t the only Philadelphian paying us a visit this week. Vocalist Michelle Lordi provides a glimpse into what booker Bobby Selvaggio has in store for the new Creative Arts Collaborative Center – C ³ (HÜG) in Akron. That’s a story in itself, and we’ll be getting to it soon, but what you need to know about this show is here: Orrin Evans, Matthew Parrish and James Johnson, III. That’s Lordi’s band and it’s a good one. So is Lordi’s latest release, 2020’s Break up with the Sound, wherein she covers Mick and Keefe, Cole Porter and Hank Williams.

David Bixler Trio Incognito
Friday, March 24, 8 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

New York alto saxophonist and writer David Bixler calls his band Trio Incognito. It’s a sly bit of misdirection for a small band that punches way above its weight. On the evidence of its latest recording, Inside the Grief (which I reviewed here), the high-energy trio of Bixler, bassist Dan Loomis and drummer Fabio Rojas are anything but wallflowers.

Caleb Smith Quintet
Friday, March 24, 8 p.m.
BLU Jazz+, 47 E. Market St. Akron (tickets)

At one of our monthly lunches and chop sessions, WRUW’s Jim Szabo mused about how NEO seems to produce an unending stream of outstanding trombonists. Also on Friday night, another one takes the Bop Stop stage. He’s Caleb Smith, a musician who is not only a precocious instrumentalist, but also has great taste in sidemen. He’ll be joined by A-listers Nathan-Paul Davis on saxophone, guitarist Jonah Ferguson, Ahmed McLemore on bass and Akron drummer Gabe Jones.

Bobby Selvaggio Paintings Project
Saturday, March 25, 8 p.m.
Bop Stop, 2920 Detroit Ave, Cleveland (tickets)

Though Bobby Selvaggio may book the room at Akron’s BLU Jazz+, as a performer, he’s free to play where he wants. That’s good news for Cleveland audiences eager to hear the saxophonist’s new Paintings Project with Ferguson, bassist Kip Reed and busy drummer Zaire Darden.

Information for this section came from Jim Szabo’s essential, weekly Northeast Ohio jazz calendar , NEO’s most complete list of jazz and jazz-adjacent events.

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