Recording inside a church on a single day in December 2020, the three musicians on We Sick found themselves in a sanctuary rendered empty by the pandemic and the ensuing quarantine. The liner notes reference a Malcolm X speech from 1963 before bringing us back to the present day: This recording was made not long after police murdered George Floyd, and across the street, while they played, the Minnesota State Capitol was being surrounded by the National Guard.
Improvised music, by its very nature, is of a time and a place. At a minimum, recordings provide a historical document of what occurred. At their best, recordings can feel like a doorway into these moments. We Sick falls into the latter category. On the opening track, Letters, we immediately hear the physical space of the church while still feeling close to the musicians. They Stay Breathing Here begins with Nathan Hanson's solitary saxophone before he is joined by his bandmates, who take the piece to a more rhythmically active place that resists getting trapped in repetitive ostinatos. The two movements of Solve for Malcolm further highlight the group’s ability to navigate improvised harmonic situations collectively, with pianist deVon Russell Gray’s expansions of the harmony creating a feeling of inevitability.
The gentle, metallic sounds of Davu Seru’s drums begin the penultimate Sanctuary, which, in its drawn-out blues form, may prove itself to be the centrepiece of We Sick after a hair-raising build across nearly a quarter of an hour.