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On the surface of it there might not seem to be much continuity between the music of William Parker's and Curtis Mayfield, but scratch away at it and the overlap is revealed. On a social level both men were/are activists, conscious of rights human as well as merely social and, on the basis of the evidence caught in this double live set, both men were/are capable of galvanizing bands to a level of spontaneous joy that's uplifting as well as heartfelt.
Besides which, Parker isn't a man to acknowledge limitations upon artistry. The medley of "People Get Ready/The Inside Song" is as far as anything from the free jazz he's most readily associated with, especially as the voices of the New Life Tabernacle Generation of Praise, who lift their efforts to the heavens as part of a musical amalgam both earthly and not of this world.
"Move On Up," of course, has one of the most pleasurably insidious riffs known to humanity, and on a lengthy rendering receives the kind of airing it's more than able to withstand. Singer Leena Conquest
has never come across better on record, and the band is more than able to meet the funk quota. By around the ten minute mark, it's mutated into something beyond the composer's brief, borne aloft on Lewis Barnes' trumpet solo into a realm of spontaneous expression outside of, but not in conflict with, Mayfield's intentions.
The spirits have been called up long before that anyway. On the opening title track, the music is the best celebration of traditionloose and lithe yet, at the same time, subject to a tight collective rein, while Conquest preaches in a manner neither cloying nor overstated.
"If There's A Hell Below" is stretched to 21 minutes, but the music and message both bear its lengthy exposition. Barnes, and Darryl Foster on soprano sax, get the opportunity to take lengthy solos before tenor saxophonist Sabir Mateen gets the chance to dissolve in something volcanic. At the same time, there's a deftness about these passages which ensures the music doesn't dissolve into mere hyperbole. Quite why that's the case is probably open to discussion, but the fact remains that these guys handle it with such intuitive understanding that, when Conquest comes back in, it seems like the most natural progression rather than anything contrived.
So, the ground this set covers is considerable, as is the divide it bridges. The fact that it does it with such cathartic joy is extraordinary.
Track Listing: CD1: I Plan To Stay A Believer; If There's A Hell Below; We The People Who Are Darker Than Blue; I'm So Proud/Ya He Yey Ya; This Is My Country. CD2: People Get Ready/The Inside Song; This Is My Country; It's Alright; Move On Up; Freddie's Dead; New World Order.
Personnel: Lewis Barnes: trumpet; Sabir Mateen: alto sax, tenor sax, flute (CD1#1-3, CD2#1-5); Darryl Foster: tenor sax, soprano sax (CD1#1-4, C2#1-5); Dave Burrell: piano (CD1#3-4, CD2#1-5); William Parker: bass, doson'ngoni, balafon; Hamid Drake: drums (CD1#1-3, CD1#5, CD2); Leena Conquest: vocals; Amiri Baraka: voice, poetry (CD1#3-4, CD2#1-5); Lafayette Gilchrist: piano (CD1#1-2); Guillermo E. Brown: drums (CD1#4); New Life Tabernacle Generation of Praise: choir (CD2#1-2)