Victor Haskins & Skein
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Victor Haskins & SKEIN
Victor Haskins & Skein promo reel
"A New Way" (Victor Haskins) from Ikigai
"Everything Is A Game, Somehow" (Victor Haskins)
Victor Haskins & Skein is an ensemble that performs original electroacoustic music, threading together storytelling, philosophy, African diasporic influences, and masterfully sensitive, mind-bending collective improvisation.
Each Victor Haskins & Skein concert is an emotional, mental, and textural tapestry; like a skein of yarn, these elements are woven together intricately to produce an immersive musical experience.
“Ikigai” is a Japanese concept which translates to “reason for living” in English. Ikigai is also, appropriately, the name of their latest album The music on this album is directly inspired by the philosophies that guide Victor’s life and personal interactions. “Ikigai is an absorbing and involving experience….With Ikigai Haskins continues his masterful journey—and life's purpose, perhaps -in exploring and delivering musical worlds of wonder” (All About Jazz). A snapshot of several tracks from this live-recorded album illustrates this compelling experience:
In their performance of “A New Way”, Randall Pharr’s bass produces a bed of brooding darkness whilst Victor’s plaintive cornet soars above, lithely sparring with Tony Martucci’s propulsive and jagged cymbal splashes and snare drum attacks, collectively conjuring the tension of internal turmoil and struggle within the self. This tension is released in the second half of “A New Way” when the harmonies brighten and the ensemble’s groove smoothes. This signifies how discovering a new (positive) way to express the best parts of oneself leads to renewal and freeing of the soul…all before repeating the cycle of turmoil and renewal with new themes freshly composed conversationally in the moment.
Another track from the same performance, “Alone with My Thoughts”, is an ode to the wee, early hours of the morning, when composer Haskins feels like the entire world is sleeping and a supreme quietude surrounds him—the perfect setting to think, create, reflect, and simply exist. Skein transports the listener to this place by performing the intentional, pregnant pauses in the theme of the composition, suggesting the metaphor that the world suspended in animation. Victor casts a serenely ethereal aura is cast with the liquid, reverb-laden synthesizer sounds of his electronic wind instrument. Pharr's perpetually ascending basslines grounds and contrasts the weightless and kaleidoscopic melodies generated by Victor. Martucci's drums perfectly balance and support the growing intensity, acting as an apt engine for the drama to play out. Skein's performance effectively places the listener squarely between a waking dream and sitting on the sidelines of the passage of time.
Then there’s “To Seek Understanding”, which starts off with a ballad-like sensibility—a haunting bass presence, a sparse, driving cymbal beat, and a simple, austere melody from the cornet. As the tune progresses, more layers of depth are unearthed as the colors and harmonies modulate and the energy heightens. Finally, Victor’s cornet cries out--brassy, soulful, blues-lade--and rides atop the deep, rollicking backbeat groove provided by the dynamic rhythm duo of Martucci and Pharr. The way this performance unfolds follows the philosophy behind the composition; Haskins composed “To Seek Understanding” as a musical tribute to the moments and situations that taught him invaluable life lessons. He found that in any conflict, choosing to discover the reasoning and mindset of the other involved party always leads to valuable insights about humanity and living in harmony with others...even in the situations where he was not the one at fault.
Victor telling the story and meaning behind these personal compositions during live performances is an essential element to inviting audiences to walk alongside the ensemble during this soul-stirring auditory quest. Although Victor Haskins & Skein plays 100% original music composed by Haskins, the audience will feel right at home becoming acquainted with this fresh experience—one moment feeling the spirit to get out their seat and dance, the next feeling the vibe of contemplation and repose, and still next wanting to clap, stomp, and shout (and even laugh).
Victor Haskins & Skein has been featured at the Henrico Jazz Festival, Richmond Jazz Festival, Lake Anna Jazz Festival, Jazz on the Bluff, Kennedy Center REACH Opening Festival, Williamsburg Regional Library Dewey Decibel Series, and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Victor Haskins & Skein has also appeared at a number of schools and educational institutions to perform and give educational presentations, including Virginia Commonwealth University, University of Richmond, William & Mary, and countless grade schools to introduce children to the power of Black music. Additionally some of the activities of Victor Haskins & SKEIN have been supported by grant funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, CultureWorks Richmond, and the Virginia Commission for the Arts.
Victor composed an entire suite of original repertoire based on rhythms borrowed from Candomblé for the Skein. Candomblé is a syncretic religion that originated in Salvador, Bahia, in Brazil, and blends elements of African religious beliefs with the European Catholicism that was forced onto the enslaved Africans who were brought to Brazil. Victor visited Salvador in 2018. While there, an Alabé named África introduced Victor to these Candomblé rhythms during a series of intense group atabaque drum lessons during his two week stay. In the Candomblé religion, an "Alabé"is responsible for playing the sacred drums--specifically atabaque drums--and leading the congregation in singing and chanting during rituals. They are skilled musicians and have a deep understanding of the rhythms and songs associated with Candomblé ceremonies; their role is essential in creating the spiritual atmosphere and maintaining the energy of the ritual. Learning these powerful rhythms directly from this master practitioner inspired Victor to compose a suite of music based on these rhythms. During this particular period in his life, Haskins was working intensively on improving himself as human being--journaling, going to therapy, and intentionally becoming more mindful of how he engages with the world as an individual. Thus, this suite of music would be aimed at creatively exploring and expressing philosophies and concepts important to Victor's own life, and transitively to the human experience.
“Everything Is a Game, Somehow” expresses a philosophy apparent in the title. There is a playfulness in the way the composition is organized—the first part is driven by the ‘aluja’ rhythm from Candomblé. Victor squonks out an aggressive synthesized melody which dances atop a bass ostinato and fluid drum polyrhythms. Then, out of nowhere, the entire groove flips to become an intense, almost comical descending uptempo swing, only to recapitulate the original Afro-Brazilian groove thereafter. After improvising within this hybrid structure of the aluja rhythm followed by the uptempo swing, the band abruptly slows the tempo and invokes a heavy quasi-hip hop/rock back beat, bringing the energy of the performance to a rollicking climax. The juxtaposition of the otherworldly synthesized sounds, the lively interplay amongst the ensemble members as they improvise new parts to the song, and the highly contrasted sections of the tune encourage listeners to find the joy, the challenge, and the game in all areas of life.
Another tune from this Candomblé suite is called “Thought Is Free”, based on the 'Ijexa' rhythm. This highly syncopated and agile rhythm, played by Martucci, interwoven with the propulsive, insistent bass groove from Pharr, is adorned with the warm, inviting tone of Victor’s cornet playing melodies that vacillate between longing, otherworldly lyricism, and percussive and syncopated rhythms synonymous with the drums. These elements threaded together belie the philosophy of the tune, which is to empower the listener to open their minds and to free their thoughts—to allow their imaginations to be powerful, receptive, and interconnected.
These are just a few samplings from this body of music—there are 17 compositions in total, each exploring a different philosophy or story of humanness through the lens of these amazing, spiritual rhythms.
Victor’s aesthetic for composition is to craft an immersive world within each tune he creates; in his eyes, each piece of music should be like a board game. Each “game” is to be played according to the specific rules and logic intended for that game, so each tune/game has a distinctive identity from every other tune. Yet there is also freedom stitched into each tune--freedom to tell a completely new, unexpected iteration of the story found within the composition to capture the energy of the atmosphere, the energy of the moment when the composition is played. At every Victor Haskins & Skein show, each person in the room—both on and off the stage—feels this imaginative and powerful freedom, and walks away from the experience inspired to reach greater possibilities in their own lives.
Alleghany Highlands Arts Council
"As a presenter, we look to bring artists into our community that will engage our audience on all levels. Victor and his ensemble are not merely EXCELLENT musicians; they are lovely human beings who are professional, friendly, and enjoyable. We expected an outstanding performance, but the beautiful human connection was a bonus."
-Tammy Scruggs-Duncan, Executive Director, Alleghany Highlands Arts Council, Alleghany County, VA
Perkinson Center for the Arts & Education
“Victor Haskins & SKEIN provided a truly immersive listening experience for our patrons and had them talking for weeks. Working with Victor, Randall, and Tony was seamless, from the behind the scenes planning to performance, everything was top notch. We look forward to having them again in our venue.”
Executive Director, Perkinson Center for the Arts & Education, Chester, VA
Lake Anna Jazz Festival
"We've been fortunate to have Victor Haskins bring his talent and professionalism to our festival stage twice, and each visit has left the staff of Lake Anna Jazz in awe of his creativity, stage presence, and personality. He is not only a great communicator of musical ideas, but he also possesses much appreciated business communication skills that make it a pleasure to plan, brainstorm, and work with him. Our audience and staff had nothing but raves for his festival appearances, and I look forward to collaborating on additional projects in the near future."
President, Lake Anna Jazz, Mineral, VA
Excerpt from The Amelia Bulletin Monitor - June 23, 2022
On Tuesday, June 14, the James L. Hamner Public Library presented Richmond-based composer and musician Victor Haskins & SKEIN as part of the 2022 Marshall Bullock Summer Reading Program...
For over an hour, Victor Haskins played cornett and electronic wind instrument, Randall Pharr played bass, and Tony Martucci played drums while the audience listened to original compositions. Shoulders swayed, heads bobbed, and toes tapped to the lively music. Haskins introduced each piece by talking about how it came to be or meaning of the title. This added context allowed listeners to contemplate the music on a deeper level than simple enjoyment. Some of the pieces are scheduled to be recorded, so the audience got to hear them before they are available to the general public."
Director, James L. Hamner Library, Amelia, VA