Sax star Immanuel Wilkins: ‘Hands are a symbol of praise – but they are also lifted up at police’

At 24, the saxophonist is being hailed as one of the most promising jazz artists in the US – and his music, which explores faith and Black cultural vitality, is utopian in an America that isn’t

Immanuel Wilkins appears on a video call from his flat in Brooklyn, looking intently at the laptop perched on top of his Fender Rhodes keyboard. A column of light bounces off his forehead, and his red circular glasses magnify his eyes ever so slightly, making him look particularly absorbed in conversation.

We’re speaking before the release of The 7th Hand, the follow-up to his Blue Note Records debut (“an alto saxophonist whose playing is at once dazzlingly solid and perfectly lithe”, trilled the New York Times, as the album topped its best jazz of 2020 poll). He’s warm, effusive and a tad nervous. There’s a tantalising moment where he considers playing the Rhodes to explain a point, before getting tongue-tied, reconsidering and starting again. He’s only 24, and yet this new album – which examines spirituality in its artwork and contemporary dance in its videos – is mature and adventurous.

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