Onyx Collective: Holy Ground Land of Two Towers
New York City jazz ensemble Onyx Collective honors the 20th anniversary of the September 11 tragedy with sonic moods and reflections as young New Yorkers forever changed by experiencing that day.
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If Onyx Collective—the nebulous jazz ensemble whose name you may have overheard in downtown Manhattan at some point in the past couple years—seems elusive it is because oftentimes they are. Onyx shows are unannounced, impromptu affairs: the group will perform in a basement, at a cocktail lounge atop a hotel, and to the street from a storefront all in the course of a week. The cast of performers is interchangeable, as is the kind of music that they play. Salsa and funk are fair game, in addition to the band’s own unique style of jazz.
Onyx Collective is a steadfast part of New York, and the city is the glue that holds the group together. “New York’s role in Onyx Collective is everything,” explains Isaiah Barr, saxophonist, sometimes vocalist, and de facto leader of the band. “The names of people, the places, the street corners here are so legendary and historically prominent. It leaves a roadmap that we can walk through and a story for us to follow.”
Onyx Collective’s enigmatic nature is undeniably a part of its allure, but the force that truly propels the group is technical musical proficiency—the band’s members attended New York’s musical conservatories as kids—coupled with a reckless abandon. Onyx adds a manic energy to their classical training to create a live show that at times feels as punk as it does jazz. Barr is known to wield two saxophones simultaneously, playing both over Williamson’s feverish drumming.
Holy Ground: Land of Two Towers is commissioned by the Abrons Arts Center.
Image courtesy of Isaiah Barr/Onyx Collective