Cecilia Smith: Dark Triumph: The Life of Victoria Lancaster Smith (2006)
For some reason, after listening to Dark Triumph, I am reminded of a 1967 Impulse! album by Oliver Nelson titled Musical Tribute to JFK: The Kennedy Dream. Although it took Nelson several years to compose and record original material to memorialize the Kennedy White House years, his use of soundbites from JFK's speeches, mingled with his own musical works, served to further remember the Kennedy years in the aftermath of the asssassination. What was most striking was Nelson's use of orchestra and strings to provide the necessary moods.
In a similar way, vibraphonist and composer Cecilia Smith has undertaken an ambitious project to commemorate the life of an African-American woman, Victoria L. Smith, born in 1931who exemplfies the struggle not only for career equality, but against discrimination within her own subculture. Trained as a nurse, Victoria Smith became the black appointee at a hospital in Toledo, Ohio where she worked for many years, before moving on to California and Detroit to suit the needs of her family. After her children had grown and her husband had passed on, Smith became a Peace Corps nurse to fullfill a longtime ambition, serving in Africa and Costa Rica.
The narrative itself is worthy of a made-for-television movie and is served on this recording through the narrative of Victoria Smith herself, who relates the various chapters of her life that begin each of the album's musical tracks. Titles like "Spring/The Darkesst Child," "Grief and Disasters" and "An African American in Rio Frio Costa Rica" speak for themselves in terms of dramatic recitation.
Composer Cecilia Smith has written an ambitious score that is, in many ways, more classical than jazz, but certainly has portions that reflect both. Her use of a large orchestra with string section, the Boys Club of Harlem, and jazz combo are effectively united in the finished product. Cecilia Smith's work has been previously noted on her two Brownstone albums, and she was featured on California-based Mark Masters' orchestral tributes to jazz greats. She is afforded several good opportunities to display her sense of dynamics and swing on the vibraphone during the course of this album.
Inasmuch as there will be listeners who find the storytelling/orchestral format disruptive, a second disc consisting only of the music has been made available to the public, allowing the music to stand on its own.
Track Listing: Black Spring, Spring: The Darkest Child, Seating By Color, Too Light A Negro For Me: A Love Story, New Births:Spring, Grief And Disasters; An African American In Rio Frio Costa Rica; From Confusion To Order: Spring; Dark Triumph!
Personnel: Victoria Lancaster Smith: narration; Cecilia Smith: composer, vibraphone; Carlton Holmes: piano, keyboards; Lonnie Plaxico: bass; Montez Coleman: drums; Bruce Williams: soprano sax; Ferai Malainga: percussion; Elon Robin Dixon: vocalist, voice over; Members of the Boys Choir of Harlem: Elijah Eagle, Joshua White, Shane Jerman, Joshua Smith, Corey Warren: voices; String Section conducted by Cecilia Smith.