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Gerald Cleaver / Uncle June: Be It As I See It

Mark F. Turner By

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Be It As I See It, Gerald Cleaver's fourth release as a leader, is an artistic vision of the Great Migration of African American families, in particular his family's movement from the rural South to the urban landscapes in the North, arriving at his home in Detroit, Michigan. The New York-based drummer/composer is a major player in forward-thinking music, his reputation and acumen evolving through his early tenure with AACM leader Roscoe Mitchell, and involvement with like- minded contemporaries including bassist William Parker and pianist Craig Taborn in Farmers By Nature (AUM Fidelity, 2009). As proven time and time again, Cleaver's drumming skills are a force of epic proportion.

This time, his growth as a composer is highlighted all the more. These vignettes—childhood memories and experiences—are both abstract and human, representing a wellspring of imagination and talent, realized by his Uncle June ensemble, a tremendous lineup that includes longtime collaborator Taborn, the dual reeds of Tony Malaby and Andrew Bishop, bassist Drew Gress, and violist Mat Maneri.

Like stanzas in a poetic work, each track is connected yet autonomous. "To Love"'s dark shadowy groove includes cacophonous instruments and Cleaver's strident spoken words of love and tenacity, followed by "Charles Street Sunrise," which contains blustery flute in a pastoral setting. "Lee / Mae" is adorned with a current of ethereal strings and horn harmonies that are as lovely as they are dissonant. "Statues / UmbRa" moves like a modern day urban folktale, its balladesque rhythmic centering, before morphing into obscurity with multiple speaking voices, languid horns, and distorted guitar. These ideas are adventurous; sometimes unsettling, yet always fascinating.

Though the project is challenging, Uncle June rises to the occasion. "Gremmy" is outlandishly fun, intersecting between the lines of avant-garde and free-bop and elevated by Bishop and Malaby's contrasting reeds, Gress' thumping solo and a skittering flight from Taborn. Another factor in the equation is Maneri, whose resonating viola adds an unusual tonality. "From A Life Of The Same Name" concludes the set with a mellifluous hypnotism that's the polar opposite of the opening track; its slow swirl of voices creating an intoxicating aura.

Be It As I See It is memorable; a lucid expression that is at times surreal and breathtakingly poignant.

Track Listing: 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.

Personnel: 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).

Title: Be It As I See It | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Fresh Sound New Talent


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