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Lakecia Benjamin at Wisconsin Union Theater

June 17 @ 8:00 pm - 10:30 pm

$20 – $45
Stylishly dressed in silver and red, Lakecia Benjamin (center) performs "Jubilation" with drummer EJ Strickland, bassist Ivan Taylor, and pianist Zaccai Curtis live at TSF Jazz studio in Paris, France, in late March 2023.

Lakecia Benjamin (center) performs “Jubilation” with drummer EJ Strickland, bassist Ivan Taylor, and pianist Zaccai Curtis live at TSF Jazz studio in Paris, France, in late March 2023.


It’s been a breakout year for New York-based alto saxophonist and composer Lakecia Benjamin. Her epic, aptly titled record, Phoenix, has served to reinvent and redefine the funkier, feel-good grooves of her debut, Retox, from a decade ago. And she’ll have the opportunity to showcase the vivid dimensions of the new work here in a headlining Shannon Hall gig at the Madison Jazz Festival.

In comparison to the scope of 2012’s Retox, Phoenix feels like it enfolds the expanse of three-quarters of a century in the jazz idiom, from post-bop to vocal jazz to fusion. It has abruptly vaulted Benjamin into the same echelon as contemporaries Kamasi Washington and Irreversible Entanglements, with spiritual and politically-minded proclivities about social change and the Black experience in America.

Impassioned nine-minute opening composition, “Amerikkan Skin,” infuses those sentiments with a restless rhythm section, harmonizing woodwinds and brass, and sampled audio of author and activist Angela Davis speaking about “revolutionary hope.” The musical narrative-as-protest recalls the desperate personal plea from the late Jaimie Branch’s multi-phase “Prayer for Amerikkka.”

While the record is accessibly upfront on several tunes like “Mercy,” its lush and yet temperate string-kissed balladry featuring guest singer Dianne Reeves, Benjamin also prominently implements the more avant-garde affections of spoken-word poetry. The aforementioned Davis is a touchstone, as are the late, legendary saxophonist Wayne Shorter and Black Arts Movement leader Sonia Sanchez. Shorter appears on the musique concrète-tinged interlude “Supernova,” while Sanchez contributes to a visionary phone-recorded monologue that Benjamin and her collaborators reinterpret across the extended contrabass solo, “Peace Is A Haiku Song,” and the full-band arranged march of “Blast.”

“Basquiat,” a tribute to late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, sends the record off a wildly colorful high note in its deep, free jazz-leaning approach that seems to perfectly complement the spirit of Basquiat’s street art—modulated spontaneity. It’s further reflected in Elizabeth Lietzell’s dazzling portrait of Benjamin on Phoenix‘s cover; adorned in gold frills, Benjamin uplifts her prized instrument as if an extension of the elegant outfit and her very being, gesturing towards the crystalline confidence and sonic splendors of the record and her repertoire.

Grant Phipps


Wisconsin Union Theater
800 Langdon Street
Madison, WI 53706 United States
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