Jamal Moore’s Organix Trio Surveys the History of Baltimore


Jamal Moore recently issued Psalms Of Baltimore with his Organix Trio.

(Photo: Amanda Ribas)

Jamal Moore, founder of Organix Trio, has self-released a new collection of music, Psalms Of Baltimore, which explores the migration and historic experience of African Americans, specifically people who called Baltimore home.

The Coppin State University professor has been able to combine ethnomusicological research with his own composing, making the album a unique expression of regional music. And while the project is steeped in improvisation, the album’s built thematically, with disc one titled “East Baltimore” and disc two “West Baltimore.”

The set illustrates musical interpretations of the 1968 Baltimore riots, as well as the 2015 uprising, which followed the death of Freddie Gray. And with a personal touch, Moore titles a song “1516 Broadway,” the address where his great grandparents moved after leaving Virginia. The Organix Trio’s sound is full bodied throughout the recording, creating hair-raising soundscapes that nearly are indescribable, but certainly nod to the beauty of Sun Ra and Miles Davis.

Moore spoke with DownBeat in Baltimore about his band’s new album and the evolution of his trio.

The following has been edited for length and clarity.

Tell me about the origins of the band’s name.

Organix began as an idea when I was completing graduate work at California Institute of the Arts. I was in a specialized program created by Wadada Leo Smith called “African American Improvisational Music.” Being in that program and being exposed to other things, I decided to put together a trio using the “organix” concept, where I wanted to explore composed music in an organic manner, without having anything electronically processed, and push boundaries on acoustical instruments.

Is the band you play with in Baltimore—bassist Jeron White and drummer Warren “Trae” Crudup III—the original band you started work on the project with?

No, I started this idea in 2012. And then upon moving back [to Baltimore from California] in 2013, I took the same compositional material and ran it through some musicians here through a mutual colleague, Luke Stewart. I knew Jeron from years ago; we worked together previously in the early 2000s. And I met Warren Crudup through Luke Stewart.

As we all began to play and work on various other projects, I decided to take them aside and introduce my compositions to them. They seemed to be the perfect fit, a perfect match. 2014 is when we officially debuted and played a straight improvisational set at Union Arts in Washington D.C. The energy and intensity with which we were playing, people thought we’d been playing together for 20 years. In 2015, we recorded our first official album, Ancestral Communion and released that at the CapitalBop Jazz Series at the DC Jazz Festival.

How did the new album come about?

This a part of an ongoing project coming from an ethnomusicologist standpoint, as well as an African American and African diaspora standpoint of historical analysis, specifically in the city of Baltimore, dealing with my family lineage and migratory information coming from the Carolinas and Virginia. And how a lot of the African American families are semi-related or closely knit, depending on what area of town you’re dealing with. It’s celebrating and honoring the various African American communities here in Baltimore City—from the past and present.

The only thing that’s constant in the universe is change. So, I’m always pushing barriers and pushing for more conceptualized ideas and creativity, exploring other possibilities and pushing the grain as hard as it can be pushed. I’m not concerned with trying to compete or what’s going on around me. On Psalms Of Baltimore, we’re dealing with the intense degrees of understanding and celebrating the Black traditions of Baltimore City—the African American peoples here, the hardships, the migration.

On Psalms Of Baltimore, you use loops and pedals to enhance the sounds of the various instruments you play. So, has the project strayed a bit from its original concept?

The growth, now, is understanding how electronics function in different situations. [I’m] still staying with the indigenous aspect of bringing rural idioms in from African and Asiatic systems, and putting them into electronic formats of creating loops, but not having to deal with being subjected to using keyboards or guitar—no melodic instruments that are going to lock into a specific harmonic grid.

Can you elaborate on your studies and understanding of the African American roots of jazz?

“Jazz” is a term that is applied to the African American aesthetic in music or Black American Music, also known as BAM, a term coined by Nicholas Payton. When we deal with this aesthetic of music, we know that this art form was created by African Americans, then others came and learned or were inspired by the music and began to play the music. When we get into the capitalism of it—that’s always going to exist—[jazz] will be appropriated by various cultures globally.

We’re dealing with a folkloric art form. As I teach all the time in my jazz history course, [jazz] is at the root of Black music. It’s the roots of Black America, the good, the bad and the ugly, which is something no one wants to deal with. When we talk about the transatlantic slave trade and the evolution of spirituals on the plantation, you fall into the blues, ragtime, brass band on up to modern-day jazz. But the term “jazz” was a derogatory term dealing with sexual incantation for promiscuity, “I’m going to jazz him/her.”

Do you think that’s why jazz is a bit sexist?

It can be. Guess who it was created by? When we deal with the ones who put [jazz] into a capitalist form, then that would explain your answer. Because there are as many Black female jazz artists [as there are] male jazz artists. DB

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