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On paper, combining the musical influences of West Africa, America and Asia can appear a bit overwhelming. That's not the case at all on Royal Hartigan's Ancestors. The pianist/percussionist's trilogyBlood Drum Spirit (Innova, 2004), Blood Drum Spirit Live in China (Innov a, 2008), and now Ancestorsreflects a universal viewpoint without being neatly categorized as world music. Jazz is pervasive throughout this collection, and the various musical ethnicities serve as reminders of where the genre came from and where it could go.
Ancestors was born out of Hartigan's sense of loss. It is a catharsis without closure and an acutely personal exploration of life, death, afterlife and, mostly, family, in the immediate and universal sense. "Flight/Homecoming" opens the set with saxophonist Hafez Modirzadeh covering a spectrum of emotions including keening a brief mourning. Baomi's wordless vocal improvisation continues the theme of movement and transition, before Modirzadeh returns to transport the vocalist to a spoken word suite reaffirming the continuous cycle of life beyond the physical form. Throughout this opening segment, Hartigan alternately augments and drives the music, using bells, dondo, bass drum and hi hat before moving to piano.
Within the two-disc set, Hartigan's own family emerges as a Greek Chorus. A poem by his grandfather is carried by Sandra Poindexter's poignant violin work, while Hartigan's tap danced "Waltz Clog" is a tribute to both his uncle and mother and in a much lighter vein. Pop standards of past generations, as well as Tchaikovsky's "Violin Concerto," appear as favorites of Hartigan's parents, adding personal insight in the midst of more multicultural styles. Hartigan's piano brings to mind Jelly Roll Morton on "Hazel's Dance" and "Five Foot Two."
Haritgan is masterful at tying complex themes into a story, but more than that he brilliantly conveys human emotion through the music. Ancestors accepts sadness and loss as a reality, but also celebrates ongoing rebirth and treats time as an elastic continuum. Musically, he manages to incorporate instruments and styles as diverse as stride piano, Turkish bendir and Chinese zither in a collected work that is both universal and tangible at the same time. Ancestors is a blend of musicology and genealogy that is quite unique and memorable.
Track Listing: CD1: Flight/Homecoming; Passages; Three Views; Hazel's Dance; Guanshan Yue; James Eagle Eye; La Vie En Rose/All to Myself/Soliloquy; Waltz Clog; Tenderly; Tatao; The Shadow of Your Smile; Cycles; Railroad Banjo To My Heart; Our Family; You'll Never Know Just How Much I Love You; Adzohu Kadodo Reflections. CD2: Hazel's Dance: Orphan Annie; Midnight Sun; Ray Hart; Parting Veil; Syrinx; We'll Be Together Again; New York Rhythm; Meng Jiang Nu; It Had To Be You; Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto In D Major/Midnight; In Moscow; Hanabi; I Know I've Been Changed; Tenderly; Dondo--Tap Conversation For Frank, Edward, Mary & Richie Hartigan; Divine Trance; Five Foot Two; Through The Light; Walking Step.
Personnel: Baomi: vocals and narrative poetry; Conrad Benedicto: philippine dabakan drum; yu fuhua: violin; Danongan Kalanduyan: philippine kulintang gongs; Masaru Koga: japanese shakuhachi flute;
C. K. Ladzekpo: west african e e atsime u master drum, dondo hourglass drum; Hafez Modirzadeh; soprano and tenor saxophones, persian ney flute, and western flute; Sandra Poindexter: violin; Timothy Volpicella: banjo; Weihua Zhang: chinese guzheng zither;
Royal Hartigan: bells, percussion, piano, tap dance, turkish bendir frame drum, axatse gourd rattle, dondo hourglass drum, drum set.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.