Ascendant - Illuminate:Blue (2013)

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Kael Mboya Bradley and Michael Lockett, the longstanding members of the band Ascendant, shut down a generation of conspiracy theorists by explaining that the name of their latest record, Illuminate Blue, has absolutely NOTHING to do with the illuminati. The Illuminati, for those of you who don’t know, is one of those secret groups along with the organizations such as Tri-Lateral Commission that are working a sinister plan to control the world. Apparently, this secret group recruits popular music artists to insert their sinister message into songs. I’m not big on conspiracy theories (I think the Warren Commission pretty much nailed it), so Bradley and Lockett’s explanation that the album’s title is an expression of their desire to shed light on situations and circumstances makes works for me.

A tune such as “Nothing to Prove” is not going to make listeners embrace materialism or whatever flavor of soul killing Kool Aid the various secret societies supposedly want the masses to ingest. “Nothing To Prove,” with its clear eyed view of  the toll that living in a culture that places body image and material gain above all else can take, aims to encourage people to reevaluate societal norms and values. And if you’re going to bring a message, you might as well make it entertaining. Ascendant manages to do just that on a track that is moved by a funky bass line and a horn section that brings to mind the best work of groups such as Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire.

“Nothing to Prove” is representative of the six tracks on Illuminate Blue. The record is a throwback to the days when bands that merged their funk with a healthy dose of jazz improvisation were commonplace. Tracks such as the percussive “Gye Nyame” are six and seven minute suites that provide ample space for the musicians to create.

The group knows two speeds, high-energy inspirational numbers and slow love songs. However, Illuminate Blue’s three slow jams all feature lush arrangements and soulful vocals. The strongest of a very solid lot is the wedding song worthy “All You Need” - which showcases Lockett’s vocal range - although the record’s final track, “Back Into The World,” is sneaky good. By that, I mean “Back Into The World” is the kind of song that doesn’t get noticed immediately. It’s the last track on a very good record. However, by the time the listener reaches the point where the duet partners sing in unison, it becomes clear that we are hearing something very special.

Gimmicks can move units, and the corporations can create buzz that the pop culture machine can exploit. There is no conspiracy there. However, the best and most enduring way for an artist to capture the minds of the listening public is to make great music. And Ascendant has managing to do so with a record that is soul stirring and…Illuminating. Highly Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

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