Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Harriet Tubman's "Araminta"

Harriet Tubman is the rubric chosen to represent a power trio of veteran musos who are accustomed to working the territory where free jazz, funk, and heavy rock intersect. Guitarist Brandon Ross has long been a mainstay in the groups of Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson, Lawrence "Butch" Morris, and Oliver Lake, among others. His axe's blues-drenched song is refracted through a composer's sensibility and an array of electronics. Bassist Melvin Gibbs honed his craft with leaders like Ronald Shannon Jackson, Sonny Sharrock, and Henry Rollins. He lays down a foundation of shifting tectonic plates and slings thick-textured notes around like shards of obsidian in his solos. Drummer J.T. Lewis is equally at home subdividing the beat behind R&B divas, straight-ahead jazzers, and "outside" improvisers. With his bandmates in Harriet Tubman, he engages in three-way discussions where any man can dominate the conversation at any given time.

On Araminta -- the name given at birth to the band's namesake abolitionist -- their trialogue is joined by the trumpeter-composer Wadada Leo Smith, that most Milesian alumnus of Chicago's Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who's been doing career defining work in his seventh decade with a series of suites commemorating the American experience (the latest of which, America's National Parks, topped a lot of year-end poll lists last year). Together, they create a music that is simultaneously intentional, free-flowing, and spontaneous.

"The Spiral Path to the Throne" opens the proceedings with layers of shimmering electronic sounds, giving way to a series of solo exchanges over a dense rhythmic underpinning. Ross and Gibbs raise architectonic structures on "Taken," before "Blacktal Fractal" -- inspired by designs on Shoowa textiles from Congo -- is energized by some of Wadada's most salutary playing. "Ne Ander" lumbers with crushing heaviness before the lovely lyrical interlude that is "Nina Simone." The album's climactic tour de force comes with the one-two punch of "Real Cool Killers" -- which combines dub ambiance with heavy psychedelic sonics -- and Smith's composition "President Obama's Speech at the Selma Bridge." On the latter piece, the players conjure a storm over the Edmund Pettus Bridge, with Gibbs and Lewis' thunder following Smith and Ross' lightning, evoking the memory of past struggles to summon strength for those to come. The closing ballad "Sweet Araminta" is a respite, a blessing, and a benediction.

Perhaps the uncertain days we're entering will bring a resurgence of freedom music. We'll have to wait and see, but for now, Araminta provides the kind of sustenance that your psyche and spirit have probably been craving.

Stream, download, or pre-order the physical CD from Sunnyside Records here.


Post a Comment

<< Home