Saxophonist and composer Kazemde George soars to powerfully melodic heights on his debut release featuring a quintet of emerging artists performing his original music.

I Insist’ will be released on October 22, 2021.

Making his auspicious debut as a leader, Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist, composer, and educator Kazemde George is proud to present I Insist, a vibrant collection of original music with a stellar band featuring Sami Stevens (vocals), Isaac Wilson (Wurlitzer, piano), Tyrone Allen II (bass) and Adam Arruda (drums).

Both in his fluid improvised solo flights and his expressive writing, George exhibits a gift for streamlined, emotionally direct melodies, articulated with a warm tone and a certain guiding restraint. The title I Insist, however, is meant to be assertive. It is at once a shout-out to Max Roach’s landmark 1960 protest album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, and a statement of George’s own determined disposition, not to mention an acknowledgment of our turbulent times and the role of artists in building awareness. The music is unapologetically swinging and fully engaged, whether simmering on a low flame or reaching climactic heights of intensity.

I’m Black, I’m studying African American music, and I didn’t make these choices randomly,” says George, who has also released an inspired series of electronic beat tapes under the moniker KG, B. “Music tells a story, and people carry their culture with them. I learn about these things intentionally and create an amalgam of these stories, these histories. To me, building that within myself is all part of the same struggle, spreading the message. Alluding to the sentiment of We Insist! is important to me at this time in history, and it’s in the background of my music, even if the point’s not being made explicitly.

Raised in Berkeley, California by Caribbean immigrant parents (his mother is Jamaican, his father from Guyana), George completed a Harvard/New England Conservatory (NEC) joint program in 2014, receiving a bachelor’s degree in neurobiology and a master’s degree in jazz composition. In 2012 he received Harvard’s George Peabody Gardener Fellowship to study music and Afro-Cuban percussion in Havana, Cuba for nearly a year. Through this exposure to Cuban music and culture, George clarified his interest in the music of the African diaspora, becoming fluent in Spanish along the way. “Music from Haiti, Brazil, Cuba, Panama, West Africa, the American South,” he says, “all these places where Black people have been — it is the story of everything in the Americas. The process of getting to where we are now involved a lot of people being moved around. That story is really interesting to me.

George’s original music reflects that worldly perspective. Composed wholly at the piano (his first instrument), his pieces all eventually undergo what he calls “the gig test,” where they take shape in front of an audience and undergo change simply by virtue of being played by a variety of musicians. “All the songs on I Insist are songs that have been on the road with me,George says. The recording took place at the right time, after an intense week-long run of shows in the SF bay area.

Vocalist Sami Stevens (George’s fiancée) brings a bright and versatile dimension to the sound, singing original lyrics on the laid-back and melodic 5/4 gem “Skylight” and the somewhat sorrowful downtempo groover “Happy Birthday.” She also executes well-crafted unisons and harmonies with George’s tenor on “Things Line Up,” “Haiti” and “Balance.” Isaac Wilson plays the acoustic piano brilliantly on “Skylight,” “Understanding” and the burning uptempo tracks “Balance” and “This Spring,” but Wurlitzer electric piano on everything else — a conscious choice on George’s part. That slightly worn, elusively dissonant sound “really gives me the feeling of playing a live gig,” George says, alluding to many a night of exploration in small piano-less Brooklyn clubs. Transferring that energy to the studio was key, and it worked.

The rhythm section, too, was crucial. Bassist Tyrone Allen II, from DC, is a recent New York arrival and a member of George’s new tenor-bass-drums trio, with a release of its own in the offing. Drummer Adam Arruda, from Toronto, swings with deep commitment and supple grace and shows stylistic range on the funkier “Happy Birthday” and the Cuban changüí-inspired groove of “Understanding.” (Wilson’s accompaniment is unfaltering, hitting the upbeats animatedly for the full length of the tune.) “Haiti,” originally a looped electronic beat from George’s KG,B Soundcloud, translates naturally to the full-band setting thanks to the group’s sensitivity and sophistication.

George is keen to make more diasporic connections as his journey unfolds. Haitian Creole and Portuguese are on his to-learn list as well. In establishing his own creative voice within African American music, George seeks to help elevate communities of underprivileged youth through musical and cultural education. His goal is travel and immersion in communities heavily influenced by African musical traditions in order to study, teach and perform. I Insist is a formidable step toward realizing that dream.

In addition to work with his own projects, Kazemde George has performed with Solange Knowles and Saint Heron, David Murray, Roman Filiu, and Jason Moran, at venues and festivals such as Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, Irving Plaza, Yoshi’s, Black Cat, Cafe Stritch, the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center, Panama Jazz Festival, Made in America Festival, AFROPUNK and Panorama NYC Music Festival.

Track Details

1. Things Line Up
2. Coasts
3. Balance
4. Skylight
5. Haiti
6. I Insist
7. Happy Birthday
8. Parkside
9. This Spring
10. Understanding

Total time: 67:46


Kazemde George, tenor saxophone
Sami Stevens, vocals
Isaac Wilson, Wurlitzer, and piano
Tyrone Allen II, acoustic bass
Adam Arruda, drums


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