On his fourth disc as leader, and the first with his Uncle June ensemble, Detroit-native drummer Gerald Cleaver shoots for the stars. Though termed a sound collage based on the Great Migration, Be It As I See Itis not programmatic. Cleaver's approach is personal, celebrating the intelligence, strength and humor of the folks he grew up with, and those who made one of the first real choices for black people in America: the movement of two million out of the southern United States to escape racism and to seek jobs in industrial cities in the north. However, while knowing the intent isn't required to enjoy the music, it's a shame none of the back story is found in the CD digipack, as it does help provide the overall context which elucidates this vision.
Since moving to the Big Apple in 2002, the drummer has become the go-to guy for free-thinking propulsion on the NYC scene, as testified by appearances with bassist William Parker, pianist Muhal Richard Abrams, and reed man Roscoe Mitchell. Joining the drummer in Uncle June (as young nephews and nieces called his father John) is a cadre of frequent collaborators who breathe life into his varied arrangements. His association with pianist Craig Taborn goes back to their college days in Michigan, and Taborn's keyboards add a broad sweep to the drummer's palette, as well as the standout solo voice.
Cleaver rings the changes between tracks, deploying his resources with orchestral acumen, though his charts are less left field than many of his erstwhile employers, ranging from cinematic ambience to outright swing. So the dense swirl of the opening "To Love," which parts for Cleaver to intone the title between bursts of saxophones and piano flurries, is followed by the measured processional of "Charles Street Sunrise." Such a disorientating start invokes a dreamlike state. An impression reinforced by the suite of atmospheric pieces that follow comprising "Fence & Post (for Mom & Dad)." Highlights number "Lee / Mae," for the leader's mother and grandmother, which develops as a lush ballad setting for Mat Maneri's viola serenade, and "Ruby Ritchie / Well" foregrounding the twinned soprano saxophones of Tony Malaby and Andrew Bishop.
Further switchbacks ensue, perhaps too many for the album to truly hang together. "He Said" features a mash up of recitations by Cleaver, his wife Jean Carla Rodea and his father, before a sprightly theme, while the involved arrangement of the almost funky "Charles Street Quotidian" includes a stuttering jabbing piano spot. Also worthy of mention are the waltzing "22 Minutes (The Wedding Song)," featuring Andy Taub's banjo together with a poised clarinet outing by Bishop, and the final "From A Life Of The Same Name" boasting a romantically blue Taborn excursion.
To Love; Charles Street Sunrise; Fence & Post (For Mom & Dad)--Alluvia; The Lights; Lee / Mae; Statues / UmbRa; Ruby Ritchie / Well; He Said--Gremmy; Charles Street Quotidian; 22 Minutes (The Wedding Song); From A Life Of The Same Name.
Gerald Cleaver: drums, percussion, voice); Andrew Bishop: flute, soprano saxophone, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone; Tony Malaby: soprano saxophone, tenor soprano saxophone; Craig Taborn: piano; Drew Gress: bass; Mat Maneri: viola; Ryan MacStaller: guitar (1, 8); Andy Taub: banjo (11); Jean Carla Rodea: voice (8, 11); John Cleaver: voice (8).
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