On an average week, Tuesday night is not the most hip time to go out in Stockholm. Fortunately, there is nothing average about Stockholm Jazz Festival or Lakecia Benjamin.
The overly hyped audience was queuing and patiently observing the long sound-check motions. The musicians’ flight from the previous gig got cancelled so they had to find an option B and arrived fashionably late. The waiting time built up high expectations for a better-be-worth-it performance, but with the band’s entrance, Lakecia Benjamin lets everybody understand that she’s here to deliver a top-notch act and have a wild night. And all these delayed flights are just boring practicalities that don’t matter a thing.
In the first few minutes, Benjamin takes over the room with a massive energy blowout. She encourages the shouts and hypes up the audience even more. Her lively stage presence makes Benjamin one of the few artists who actually have a conversation with the crowd. Making Stockholmers laugh and cheer is not the easiest task but she brilliantly accomplished it.
Apart from her outgoing personality, Lakecia Benjamin promotes one simple idea which makes us buy into the vibrations coming from her – jazz is for expressing your opinion and fighting for a cause. Her tune American Skin reflects the built-up intensity of the racial situation. A non-trivial emotional piano solo by Zaccai Curtis followed up by an argumentative rap triad carries a sentimental value not for the tears nor compassion. It is for recognition and justice. As the lead passionately proclaims: “It’s not for me. It’s for everybody.”
Throughout the set, the drummer EJ Strickland is in somnius, living a colourful dream. He often keeps his eyes closed as if he was praying to the Gods of Jazz. By observing the band, I feel confident that jazz is not a one-God religion because every musician honours his very own. Benjamin pays tribute to John Coltrane with music full of love and humanity. Her golden earrings in the shape of the African continent are heavily shaking while her sax is howling to the moon. Lakecia Benjamin is not a lone wolf because she has a loyal pack that stands by her and her message.
The priestess of jazz proclaims “We’re passing on to the turbulent part of the show. Don’t worry, we’re going to land.” And rightfully so! The band is on the edge of a musical maze, giving it all and indulging in creativity. It is the most turbulent part but Benjamin looks at peace. She is devotedly playing on her knees in a prayer as an inspired believer. With amazing grace, Lakecia Benjamin proves her conviction that music has no other language but love. After a breathtaking bit, she needs no intermission. Her intermission is a solo during which she demonstrates an impressive long breath hold in several parts.
With grace and laid-back stage jokes, towards the end of the concert, the band shows a bit of nostalgia about New York and the experiences they shared there. At the end of the day, everyone is most at ease in their natural habitat and, as Lakecia Benjamin said “I’m a New Yorker. I’m not comfortable without noise and jazz.” Luckily, the audience managed to keep up with her rhythm and energy, deeply thanking the band for such a fabulous night.