The title of Kazemde George’s debut as a leader tips the hat to Max Roach’s heady We Insist! Freedom Now Suite. But even though the album, like its spiritual predecessor, includes a vocalist on several tracks, the saxophonist makes his assertion in a gentler manner than Roach. His tenor tone is warm, digging into the changes of his material and exploiting the melodic potential he has set up.
Behind him, bassist Tyrone Allen II and drummer Adam Arruda are often the ones stoking the flames, pushing the music and, in Allen’s case, occasionally contributing melodic ideas. Isaac Wilson’s piano locks in with them, most significantly on “Understanding,” where he holds down a Cuban changüí vamp by hitting upbeats through the whole track. But more often Wilson sits at the Wurlitzer electric piano, adding some funk to “Haiti” and depth to the title track.
Singer Sami Stevens frequently acts as a second instrument, adding wordless vocals that create an intriguing harmony with George on tracks like “Things Line Up.” When she sings lyrics, things aren’t as successful. “Skylight,” despite a 5/4 groove that swings easily, and “Happy Birthday” are both built on trite moon/spoon/June rhymes that feel underdone.
I Insist was recorded after George had given his music what he calls “the gig test,” playing it in front of a live audience. That preparation shows in the performance; the group is tight. Still, it seems as though George may still be in the process of finding where to put his own voice. Sometimes the music feels too subdued, or too content to settle into a ’60s postbop mood. Nevertheless, this is a strong debut from a musician and composer who has a lot of potential as he moves forward.