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Harriet Tubman: Araminta

Mark F. Turner By

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Named after the iconic American heroine: escaped slave, abolitionist and humanitarian Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross circa 1822); the extraordinary New York based trio of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs and drummer JT Lewis have performed together for over 20 years yet have only released three prior recordings: I am a Man (Knitting Factory, 1998), Prototype (Avant Records, 2000) and the double trio recording Ascension (Sunnyside Records, 2011) with trumpeter Ron Miles and two turntablists: DJ Logic and DJ Singe.

With Araminta Tubman adds 2013 Pulitzer prize finalist, trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith to create an unyielding statement of the trio's depth, cultural awareness and continued inventiveness. Ross, Gibbs, and Lewis are world-class players having performed with numerous like-minded artists who operate outside of the music mainstream—Henry Threadgill, Cassandra Wilson and Arto Lindsay—yet have created a unique group identity that challenges stereotypes. Producing more energy and emotion than ensembles twice its size, Tubman is the antithesis of a prog-rock trio and the epitome of an avant-power trio.

Araminta integrates funk, Afro-roots blues, psychedelic rock grooves and electronic trimmings within thought-provoking themes. Ross's scratchy, blistering , yet elegant guitar magic is complemented by Gibbs's thumping and wild fuzz tones and Lewis's angular beats in a program that artfully ranges in feel and sound from death-metal punk in "Ne Ander" to earthy soul in the title track "Sweet Araminta" an anthroponym which means "lofty" and "protective." In his mid-seventies and still going strong , Wadada Leo Smith's commanding horn fits hand-in-glove with Tubman's eclecticism from the onset of the brooding yet grooving "The Spiral Path to the Throne."

This is not comfortable music. Densely colored themes paint aural pictures of beauty, struggle and perseverance whether paying homage to the iconic singer/activist in "Nina Simone" or reflecting on America's troubled past and present in "President Obama's Speech at the Selma Bridge." Yet Tubman's appeal is totally inclusive and can be appreciated in the simple excellence of how these artists connect and execute whether riffing hard and funky in "Real Cool Killers" dedicated to novelist Chester Himes's eponymous literary crime work or the effervescent Caribbean-laced "Blacktal Fractal" as Smith's muted trumpet recalls a vibe similar to Miles Davis's The Man with the Horn (Columbia/Warner Bros., 1981).

Harriet Tubman's music might be described as loud, brash, protest music, Pan-African spirituality, or post-Funkadelic rock grounded by the heavy influence of jazz improvisation. In the end Araminta's speaks loud and clear with both genuineness and openness as guitarist Brandon Ross has stated so eloquently, "Our music does not dictate through genre, or demographic, how one 'should' relate to it."

Track Listing: The Spiral Path to the Throne; Taken; Blacktal Fractal; Ne Ander; Nina Simone; Real Cool Killers; President Obama's Speech at the Selma Bridge; Sweet Araminta.

Personnel: Brandon Ross: chitarra; Melvin Gibbs: basso; JT Lewis: batteria; Wadada Leo Smith: tromba.

Title: Araminta | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records


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