FENCES - August Wilson, one of our most formidable writers, wrote this play in 1985 and set the stage in 1950's Pittsburgh, PA. The stage play traveled across the country for decades before the characters themselves landed in the hands of Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. This masterful pairing has taken the story to new heights. Not to take anything from the amazing Viola, but it is common knowledge - when Denzel takes on a character, he becomes the character. Fences is no exception - Denzel owns this moment and Viola is right at his side, until she's not!
"I Can't Breathe" - The infamous phrase heard on the video of Eric Garner is his desperate attempt to live. He was unsuccessful in his plea. The phrase has since become a metaphor for the desperate attempt by the oppressed to be free of the "chokeholds" of life.
True to form, jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard teamed up with E-Collective to produce the album entitled Breatheless. From this union, we find the title track - Breathless. They tell a phenomenal story...
When it comes to rap music and the hip hop culture, the question of dead or alive sparks an all too familiar conversation these days. Music evolves. Music transcends. But what happens when music is just taken away from its origins? When it is systematically stolen and turned on its head. Going from lyrical genius and revolutionary stances to outright misogyny and violent mumble rap.
Luckily, the hip-hop game has not completely died - at least not yet. It's very hard to not be judgmental, to not "blame the youth", but we can't allow every artistic achievement to just be hijacked, distorted, watered down and then repackaged and sold back to the originators. How ludicrous is that? Might sound ridiculous, but it is more than a notion.
Thankfully, in a matter of weeks we saw the release of albums from three legendary icons in the rap industry: Hip hop Ain't Dead Yet! By the way, Black America Again is a sigh of relief, perhaps a moment of redemption for Common. After his "Let's Forget About the Past" comment, he appeared to be falling fast! I digress.
Check them out on YouTube, but don't forget to support - Ujamaa!
Simply mind blowing - was the reaction around the room. The story is unfortunately all too common, but the artistic expression of the story of Tamir Rice was dramatic, well directed and acted, and outright phenomenal. We're looking for an encore performance. The community needs the message.
When it comes to it, “Music is organized sound, but the organization has to involve some element of the unexpected or it is emotionally flat and robotic. The appreciation we have for music is intimately related to our ability to learn the underlying structure of music we like - the equivalent to grammar in spoken or signed languages - and to be able to make predictions about what will come next. Composers imbue music with emotion by knowing what our expectations are and then very deliberately controlling when those expectations will be met, and when they won’t. The thrills, chills, and tears we experience from music are the result of having our expectations artfully manipulated by a skilled composer and the musicians who interpret that music.” - Daniel J. Levitin. Using the term ‘appreciation’ perhaps understates the peoples’ more than passing affinity with music; I would say at its least there is love for it all the way to the extremes of obsession. Which segues to grand pianist Ahmad Jamal’s original song “I Love Music” off of his 1970 album entitled, “The Awakening”. Jamal, whose career dates back to the jazz hard-bop days of the 1950’s, demonstrates his continue evolution in his art form; crafting an amazing array of adventurous and imaginative lines on the Trio format record with Jamil Nasser on bass and Frank Gant on drums which culminates with the a priori song “I Love Music”. A track with impressive improvisation by Jamal; it has been sampled several times most notably by Nas “The World Is Yours” & Jeru Da Damaja “Me or The Papes”. The album is rounded out by four jazz standards; though the aforementioned song stands out. It’s safe to say about “I Love Music” that we all do.
- J After Dark
It has been often stated that the word “Duende” is one of the most difﬁcult words within the entire Spanish language to translate into in others. Poet Federico Garcia Lorca said of it : “The duende, then, is a power, not a work. It is a struggle, not a thought. I have heard an old maestro of the guitar say, ‘The duende is not in the throat; the duende climbs up inside you, from the soles of the feet.’ Meaning this, it is not a question of ability, but of true, living style, of blood, of the most ancient culture, of spontaneous creation…everything that has black sounds in it, has duende.” Moreover, that the word represents an emotion or response to a work of art and that can never easily be conveyed within syllables and vowels; like that of music. Which brings one to the work entitled “Duende” by the Nando Michelin Trio featuring Nando Michelin on keys, Richie Barsha on drums, and the effervescent Esperanza Spalding on bass and vocals. It is an ambitious album by an eclectic jazz group, performing live, with musical stylings that use various cultural inferences and inﬂuences; ranging from Brazilian to African. Not the band leader here, Esperanza’s presence is felt nonetheless with her solid bass play and almost haunting voice. The song “Duende” exempliﬁes this succinctly. She also provides to two tracks to the record written by her : “I Adore You” and “Mela” which are showcased on her self-titled album released in the same year of 2006. I am reminded of another word, “Sankofa” which translates roughly to go back as to move forward; when listening to this album going back to the bassist’s beginnings and thinking forward to her recent work, one has a greater appreciation for her musical evolution.
- J After Dark
Fat Albert Rotunda (1969) was the first album released for legendary jazz pianist / keyboardist Herbie Hancock after leaving Blue Note Records. It represents a precursor for the jazz fusion that he would spearhead and later help establish in the 1970s. Originally written for the soundtrack to Bill Cosby’s cartoon special which shares the same name, illustrates the artist’s move away from his jazz roots; embracing more of the R&B and soul of the 1960s. The album has Joe Henderson, Joe Farrell, Garnett Brown, Johnny Coles, and Joe Newman on windwards, Albert “Tootie” Heath and Bernard Purdie on drums, Eric Gale on guitar, Buster Williams on bass, and of course Hancock on keys. “Jessica”, “You Know When You Get There”, and “Tell Me a Bedtime Story” standout on the record. With the latter being a complexity of harmonics worthy of being a jazz standard on the level of the title track off of his seminal work “Maiden Voyage”. - J After Dark
Poet Aberjhani once wrote, “Jazz, like poetry, is one of those dazzling diamonds of creative industry that help human beings make sense out of the comedies and tragedies that contextualize our lives.” Pianist Robert Glasper demonstrates that he is definitely in his element when it comes to jazz; aiding to make sense out of the improvisational art form. One of the premier pianists of the modern generation, Glasper has proven to be of the avant-garde seemingly effortless blending various musical genres from jazz to hip-hop while establishing his own unique sound.
His work entitled, “In My Element” released on Blue Note records, provides proof of this with its thought provocative improvisations by the trio of Vicente Archer on bass, Damion Reid on drums and Glasper on keys. The standout song on the album is a medley of Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage and Radiohead’s “Everything In Its Right Place”; two distinctly different tracks from artists of differing musical genres. It’s a track that Glasper and company not only innovates upon but also revitalizes a classic jazz standard.
- J After Dark