Damon Locks’ Black Monument Ensemble
It was hard to imagine that Damon Locks’ indefinably varied career—his experimental impact on punk, his voyages to the outer rim of jazz, and his polemical sound collages and visual art—could be contained in anything so tidy as a summation. But then Black Monument Ensemble tied it all together in spectacular fashion.
A scion of the classic D.C. punk scene, Locks made his name in Chicago, fronting Trenchmouth with Fred Armisen (yes, him) and Wayne Montana, with whom Locks later formed the free-jazz reggae band The Eternals. In 2014, when an unarmed Black teenager named Michael Brown was killed by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, Locks channeled his anger and his vantage as an art teacher at Illinois’s Stateville Correctional Center into a sound collage teeming with Civil Rights-era recordings. It became the cornerstone of the album Where Future Unfolds, which in turn birthed Black Monument Ensemble, an intergenerational, flexibly sized cast of musicians, singers, and dancers that includes the clarinetist Angel Bat Dawid and the cornetist Ben LaMar Gay.
“Intersecting gospel, jazz, hip-hop, social activism, and 808-style electro breaks,” according to AllMusic, the group’s performance at the Garfield Park Conservatory became a breakout album on International Anthem in 2019. They bottled lightning again in NOW. Recorded both inside and outside of Chicago’s Experimental Sound Studio, the album is ventilated with the sounds of studio chatter and the chirring of cicadas, in a spirit of absolute openness to the moment and the world. “Where the group’s 2019 LP spun racial disharmony into a sacred celebration of Blackness,” The New York Times’ Marcus J. Moore said, “the new record envisions an alternate universe of infinite possibility.”