There comes a time when words just aren’t enough. A time when so many people are talking at each other and no one is listening. A time when everyone is “talkin’ loud and ain’t sayin’ nuthin'.” It is exactly in times like these when a new voice comes to the fore bringing clarity, an enlightened humanity, and unity of purpose for a lost people. This voice is at once ancient and contemporary, foreign yet familiar. It is one that unveils, engages, and evokes an inner strength yet unknown to the listener, and its power bridges the gapping hole of misunderstanding by revealing the essential harmony of humanity. This voice, that of the Drum, is a voice that conjures the past, illuminates the present, and calls forth that which is to be. It is a voice with the power to transform, to build and destroy, and it has been forgotten.
As modern humanity has moved away from striving toward its essential self, the voice and language of the Drum has lost its meaning. In his 1992 article, Drum is the Ear of the Gods: Africa’s Inner World Of Music, Richard Hodges asserts that “[s]ubtle verbal expressions may be encoded in drum language. Almost everybody can understand this language at a basic level; often there will be other levels of meaning woven in which can be understood only by drumming initiates of a certain level of experience. This is the source of the concept of the “talking drum.” Drum language can be used for reciting history and myth, for praising kings and patrons, for topical social commentary, for long-distance communication.” This concept of the Drums talking, “reciting history” and “topical social commentary,” is the basis for this series of recordings.
Understanding that a master musician is not just an entertainer, she or he is an artist with a profound understanding of the ways in which the art functions in the cultural context it is created in. There is an important difference between an artist and the entertainer. An artist can be entertaining, but is more concerned that the art uplift and edify humanity, where the entertainer is concerned with the singular aspect of providing amusement. Entertainment is often good for the soul, but can also be used to distract from the important issues of human development. Art, on the other hand, is a unique product cultivated from the depths of the spirit in conjunction with lived experience. True art connects with humans at their core and often elicits a response that may, itself, be beyond the immediate comprehension of the respondent. It is this reaction, raw and unfiltered, that generally initiates a process of reflection, and this contemplation often leads to growth. There are few artists in America’s contemporary art music scene that have cultivated a career centered around empowering their audience toward a fully realized spiritual existence. Dr. Mark Lomax, II is one of the few and in his drumming we hear a modern expression of the Drum’s ancient voice.
Born in Blacksburg, Virginia in 1979 to parents who were leaders in music and word ministries at Virginia Tech, Lomax grew up in a fertile environment that married music and spirituality. He showed signs of musical ability early on, and was playing at the drums by age 2. At 6 he was playing for local churches and became a regular drummer for his mothers children’s choirs by 12. Thus began his training in music as a spiritual art.
They say ‘the teacher will appear when the student is ready,’ and by 14 Lomax had began to develop a reputation as an up and coming drummer in the Columbus Ohio church scene. That was also the year he met James “Smooth” Elliott, a local drummer who had played with Jimmy Smith and many other well known musicians on the West Coast. It was James who introduced Mark to jazz. He took him around to the local jam sessions and put him in contact with other local legends like saxophonist Gene Walker (Rusty Bryant, The Beatles), and organist Hank Marr (Rusty Bryant, James ‘Blood’ Ulmer) with whom he played his first jazz gigs.
It was the influential combination of drummers James Elliott and Billy Brown (Hank Marr, Gene Walker) that cemented his desire to become a jazz drummer. James showed Mark that the drums could be more than a simple accompaniment to the rest of the band, while Billy taught the beauty of swing! Both melodic in different ways, Mark learned about tuning the drums so they would speak from Elliott, and blues inflected phrasing from Brown. These men laid the foundation for an approach to solo drumming that wouldn’t manifest for another two decades.
After being active as a first call drummer in the Central Ohio area, he began to gain exposure with musicians like Victor Goines, Wessell Anderson, Pharez Whitted, Raymond Wise (gospel), Marlon Jordan, and members of the Marsalis family. He composed the music for and released two recordings by age 21 (Blacklisted (1999), Tales of the Black Experience (2000)), both dedicated to music that fed the spirit in the tradition of his musical heroes Coltrane (Elvin), Coleman (Blackwell), Mingus (Richmond), and Roach.
Disappointed at the lack of depth in the expression of many mainstream jazz musicians, Lomax returned to Columbus, Ohio and began to study classical music. Lomax continued to compose, perform, and record during his 13 years of formal study. This period birthed a collection of Negro Spirituals (Lift Every Voice, 2006), several independent releases on his own imprints (Blacklisted Musik and CFG Multimedia), and his first international releases with Inarhyme Records (The State of Black America, 2010 and Isis & Osiris, 2014) which met with great critical success. But he felt these accomplishments inadequate with the growing social unrest and the rise of inadequate with the growing social unrest and the rise of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, at which point he began to look more deeply at the relationship between music (vibration) and human beings.
Coming into the knowledge of how frequency affects human physiology, Lomax began to search for an instrument and approach to playing that incorporated more of a spiritual aesthetic in order to do his part to affect healing in the world. This search led him to Bruce Hagwood and RBH drums. His discussions with Hagwood during the winter of 2013 brought forth a new instrument Lomax called ‘Ngoma Lungundu,’ the Drum that thunders, and it is with this instrument, tuned to the five pitches of a pentatonic scale laid out in thirds to form a G minor 11 chord (snare G, high-tom F, mid-tom D, first floor-tom Bb, second floor-tom G, bass drum C), that Lomax began to cultivate the intensely lyrical expression heard on his first solo recording ‘Modern Communications in Ancient Rhythms,’ and here in a more refined and improvised version on Solo Meditations.
“It became apparent to me that Black American culture was missing an essential element in the search for itself, the voice of the Drum. We don’t remember it, so we can’t remember ourselves.” He believes that his quest to re-establish the spiritual connection between Ngoma Lungundu and Africans in America will help his people find themselves again. At a time when words seem inadequate, maybe, just maybe, the primordial language of the Drum can reconnect African Americans with their essential selves; that place of infinite power and wisdom from which they can rise out of the muck and mire of the oppressive system of racism/white supremacy, and realize that freedom that is the birthright of the Human Race.