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Harriet Tubman and Wadada Leo Smith: Araminta

Mark Corroto By

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Harriet Tubman and Wadada Leo Smith: Araminta Things are urgent now. Actually, they have been critical for some time, but you might have chosen to ignore them. Politics, racism, sexism, war, inequality, and xenophobia are now issues that you must confront at home, work, in social media, and even within your bowling league. Everyone must have an opinion, and maybe that is the good news.

This consciousness of social justice has long been the well that artists and musicians draw from. Half a century ago Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young released "Ohio," chronicling the Kent State shootings, and before that was Dylan, Lennon, Sam Cooke, and later, Public Enemy, and Rage Against The Machine. The list is long, but somewhere along the way America stopped listening.

A band like Harriet Tubman, named after the ex-slave, abolitionist, suffragist, has been 'on-message' since their first release I Am A Man (Knitting Factory Works, 1998). HT is a power trio of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer JT Lewis. Araminta their fourth disc, may have appropriated the Nixon 1974 re-election slogan, "now more than ever."

It's not that the lyrics are here to school you. Harriet Tubman brings the noise. And the funk. And the free jazz. Moreover, words are unnecessary when you invite a guest such as trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith to join the recording. A member of the AACM, Smith's Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform, 2012), a tribute to the Civil Rights Movement was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. His trumpet explorations are the answer to the question of what Miles Davis would be up to were he still with us.

The message clicks from the opener, "The Spiral Path To The Throne." Fuzzy electricity ushers in a bass and trumpet fanfare that morphs into an electric-Miles slow cooker. Smith draws from his Yo Miles! sessions with Henry Kaiser here, and Ross and Gibbs pull from their years in Cold Sweat. The music takes no prisoners, "Ne Ander" thunders heavy bass and shredded guitar effects with a rock pulse. The music is almost a gauntlet thrown at Smith. Undaunted, he blows stabbing trumpet lines into the clash. To quiet the struggle, the music switches gears with "Nina Simone" (another civil rights warrior), a brooding contemplative piece that focuses on Smiths empathetic horn washed with trancelike guitar effects and a slab of bass. The trio brings the heavy guns for "Real Cool Killers." This part dub, part George Clinton Frankenstein monster, lumbers with gravity. The highlight of the session is the one composition Smith contributes, "President Obama's Speech At The Selma Bridge." Ross' guitar summons the ghosts of Hendrix and Sharrock, while Lewis and Gibbs drive a fevered pace. While the exterior of the piece is calm, each player's sound is ablaze with a hardcore passion. Let's say it's a call for justice.

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: guitar; Melvin Gibbs: bass; JT Lewis: drums; Wadada Leo Smith: trumpet.

Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records | Style: Modern Jazz


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