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Bebop Spoken There

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As we all know there are no live gigs taking place in the immediate future. However, any links to jazz streaming that are deemed suitable - i.e. with a professional approach - will be considered for posting.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

CD Review: Wadada Leo Smith, Rosa Parks - Pure Love

(Review by Ann Alex)

The insert tells us that this music is an oratorio for the iconic American civil rights activist, Rosa Parks(1913-2005), who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger, whilst on a bus in segregated Alabama. This proved to be an important move in the fight against oppression of African American people in the USA. The musicians involved are stellar performers with good track records. For instance, Smith is connected to ‘creative’ musicians form Chicago, and has issued a 4-Cd collection which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Music (2013). He has received awards for Jazz Artist of the Year(2017) and many other honours.

I was surprised that the CD has turned up at BSH as I would define the music as modern classical music, not jazz. The work consists of 7 songs, interspersed with 8 instrumental pieces, truly an oratorio. There is also a possible stage setting, involving special lighting, obviously not available on the CD. The music is provided by a string quartet, trumpet quartet, 3 soprano voices, drums, electronics, and the trumpet of Smith himself, who is the composer, except for the song No Fear, which is by Rosa Parks. The music has a strong vein of free improvisation, such that I found it quite difficult to listen to, as it was hard to find consistent bits that fitted together, and I am not unused to listening to ‘free’ music, in the jazz genre at least. To fairly judge, I’d need to hear these pieces again, maybe 3 or 4 times.

There were a few high spots, such as pleasing melody from the string quartet, passing fleetingly, and beautiful trumpet playing which didn’t last long enough. I was a bit disappointed by the songs, which were all slow and a bit ponderous to my ears, though beautifully sung by effective soprano voices. The lyrics were statements about the Civil Rights movement rather than being song-like, for example: ‘We have not a democracy, when Twenty-Eight states have Fifty-Six senators, California only two’. I did enjoy parts of track 2, Resistance and Unity, where the music portrayed just that, disturbed playing followed by a calm unified tune, and also the final piece, Victory, portrayed by triumphant cymbals, strings, and trumpet, and I could have listened to that piece longer.   

To convey the ‘feel’ of the piece, I’ll simply list the tracks, which are: 1/Prelude: Journey;2/ Vision:Dance Resistance and Unity; 3/Rosa Parks: Mercy, Music for Double Quartet; 4/ Song1: The Montgomery Bus Boycott-381 days of Fire; 5/ Song 2: The First Light, Gold; 6/ Vision Dance 2: Defiance, Justice and Liberation; 7/ Song 3: Change it!; 8/ Song 4: The Truth; 9/ Song 5: No Fear; 10/ Vision Dance 3: Rosa’s Blue Lake; 11/ Song 6: The Second Light; 12/ Vision Dance 4: A Blue Casa; 13/ Song 7: Pure Love; 14/ The Known World: Apartheid; 15/ Postlude: Victory!

Wadada Leo Smith (composer, trumpet); Diamond Voices: Min Xiao-Fin (voice, pipa); Carmina Escobar; Karen Parks (voice); RedKoral Quartet : Shalini Vijayan; Mona Tien; (violin); Andrew McIntosh (viola); Ashley Walters (cello); Blue Trumpet Quartet: Wadada Leo Smith, Ted Daniel, Hugh Ragin (trumpet); Graham Haynes (cornet); Janus Duo: Pheeroan akLaff (drum-set); Hardedge  (electronics). Also musical excerpts: Anthony Braxton (alto sax); Steve McCall (drum-set); Leroy Jenkins (violin)
The CD is distributed in the USA by City Hall records, who can be contacted on
Ann Alex

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