Three for A King

Let me recommend three records that can help you celebrate the life work and vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (upper square, lower right)

This four-disk, Pulitzer Prize-winning set looks back at the titular time period and ahead to the massive work we still have to do. In 19 pieces composed across 35 years, trumpeter Smith, his celebrated Golden Quartet, and Southwest Chamber Music tap into the danger, gravity, turbulence, and intensity and purity of focus that defined the Civil Rights Movement. Almost five hours in length, the set is never less than absorbing. Special props to the dual drummers of the Quartet: Pheeroan akLaff and Susie Ibarra.

Click here to sample an excerpt of the composition “Martin Luther King, Jr: Memphis, the Prophecy,” the set’s coda.

Joe McPhee / John Butcher: At the Hill of James Magee (upper square, lower left)

Two hornmen dialogue about oppression, freedom and resistance in the Chihuahuan Desert, at the site of Magee’s mysterious sculpture near Cornudas, Texas. The recording has the character of a religious service and includes the ambient noise of the place. One of the best records of 2019.

Click here to sample the track “Sometimes Yes, Sometimes No” (McPhee is in the left stereo channel, Butcher in the right).

Ustad Saami: God is Not a Terrorist

Saami, a Palestinian, is the last living practitioner of a pre-Islamic music (featuring elements of Farsi, Hindi, Vedic, and Sanskrit) that does not endear him to local extremists. His practice is a testament to courage, belief, and devotion–and it sounds fascinating and moving (and good, to be sure): a kind of Middle Eastern Gregorian chant with tense instrumental backing.

Click here to sample a track and read more about Saami’s background.

Click here for an album “teaser.”

Quick Takes on My Other Listening Adventures

James Brown: Foundations of Funk–A Brand New Bag 1964-1964

Brown at his finest, on tracks that are gripping and propulsive not even considering his vocals, which are punctuated by screams that sound as avant-garde as Ayler’s honks.

Sharon Van Etten: Remind Me Tomorrow

Though I found myself enjoying “Comeback Kid,” I just don’t have patience for whites people miserably moaning right now.

Greg Ward Presents Rogue Parade: Stomping Off from Greenwood

That title’s enticing, and the music’s admirable intense when the guitarist isn’t taking a turn; fortunately, the leader’s sax, Quin Kirchner’s drums and the compositions (!) win the day.

JLin: Black Origami

This landmark of EDM and the style known as footwork has spell-casting power: normally immune to such stuff, I’ve played it 20-25 times since its 2017 release and it mesmerizes and mesmerizes, even though I’m too old and not imaginative enough to dance to it.

Hama: Houmeissa

Synth music is back–even in the Sahara (try it–you’ll like it)!

A Poetry of Code (January 13, 2018, Columbia, Missouri)

“It’s all codes.” James Luther Dickinson

We have a tradition in out house over Dr. King’s weekend: we listen to the Impressions. The best of Curtis Mayfield’s writing for the group consists of delicately coded messages of encouragement for black Americans during the civil rights struggle, the most famous, perhaps, being “People Get Ready,” “I’m So Proud,” “We’re a Winner,” “It’s Alright,” and “Keep On Pushin’.” The titles do not suggest much coding, but the lyrics can be heard (and were heard by many, I am sure) as deeply romantic. A deeper dive into the Sixties Mayfield songbook, however, will reward you with more complex gems, such as “Long, Long Winter” and, especially, “Isle of the Sirens.” The former would resonate powerfully with Mayfield’s fellow Chicagoans, both in their activism and their tilting against that cold wind they call “The Hawk,” but it’s the latter that stuns me most. First, have a listen:

On the surface, as perhaps the only pop music representation of an episode from The Odyssey, it’s stunning enough: the lyrics, which could easily have been strained, are expertly crafted; the vocal arrangement reinforces the fact that the episode (and America’s climate) threatened a group; and the guitar? If you’ve ever wondered why Jimi Hendrix was so rapt in his attention to Mayfield, think of Jimi’s gentler compositions and listen to this again. But beneath the surface, the shout of “Keep course!” is where the real action is.

I wish Mayfield’s songs weren’t still so relevant and necessary. We’ll be playing them all day Monday.

Short-shrift division:

Guitar-heroes : Bassekou Kouyate and his ngoni army, wailing as a coup is being launched outside the studio walls in Bamako, on Jama Ko.

Injuns comin’ (it’s Carnival Time): Donald Harrison, Jr. stitching tribal chants into modern jazz on Indian Blues

Joy from Acadiana: the magical soundtrack to J’ai Ete au Bal – see the movie, luxuriate in (and dance to) the music.