14

Onaje Allan Gumbs: Bloodlife: Solo Piano Improvisations Based on the Melodies of Ronald Shannon Jackson

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Onaje Allan Gumbs: Bloodlife: Solo Piano Improvisations Based on the Melodies of Ronald Shannon Jackson Best known for his mainstream work with Woody Shaw on classic albums like The Moontrane (Muse, 1975) and Stepping Stones (Columbia, 1978), it may come as a surprise to learn that pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs was not just a friend and mentor to Ronald Shannon Jackson, but that he also played on the drummer's Decode Yourself (Island, 1985)—an album that, like much of Jackson's Decoding Society work, took Ornette Coleman's harmolodic Prime Time group as a starting point for his own innovations.

If Jackson's Decoding Society garnered him the most attention, he had other things to say as well. Pulse (Celluloid, 1984) revolved largely around Jackson's drums and poetry, but also featured an unexpectedly lyrical closer, "Lullabye for Mother," performed by Gumbs alone on piano. Even less known is that producer David Breskin asked Gumbs, the following year, to make a record of solo piano improvisations based around Jackson's melodies. Composed on flute, these linear melodies afforded Gumb the opportunity to expand them harmonically and use them as contexts for further improvisational exploration.

Sadly, these improvisations were not released back in the day, but when Jackson lost his battle with leukemia in 2013 Gumbs decided to issue these recordings in download-only form on his Ejano Music imprint, where he'd previously issued 2005's Remember Their Innocence , two years prior to Sack Full of Dreams (18th & Vine, 2007).

Bloodlife: Solo Piano Improvisations Based on the Melodies of Ronald Shannon Jackson reveals as much about Jackson as it does the unjustly overlooked Gumbs, more recently heard in R&B contexts but still keeping his jazz chops sharp with bassist Avery Sharpe on albums like Sojourner Truth (JKNM, 2012). The innate lyricism of "Lullabye for Mothers" bookends the album, with "Lullabye for Mothers (Good Morning)" delicately unfolding with the innocence of a child's opening eyes, while "Lullabye for Mothers (Good Night)" does the opposite, its dramatic flourishes leading to an ending of calm tranquility that could also serve as a heartfelt hope of peace for Jackson.

In between, there are moments of change-heavy bop-centricities on "Freedom of Spirit" (spotlighting the pianist's' firm touch and effortless virtuosity) and hints of church on "Rising to the Occasion," two original Gumbs improvisations culled from the same sessions. The brighter "Behind Plastic Faces" is a song begging for lyrics, while the title track is a more open-ended piece of free play, filled with stops and starts, broad dynamic reaches and a unique place where Gumbs' inherent melodism meets Jackson's more outré disposition.

Solo piano recordings are a challenge; beyond artists like Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett seeming to have grabbed ownership, it quite simply lays the performer bare, with nowhere to hide. It's no surprise that Gumbs has stepped up to the challenge; that he did so almost 30 years ago may well be. We'll never know what could have been had Bloodlife been released back then, but it's plenty good enough that it's finally seeing the light of day as a posthumous tribute to a lost friend. Bloodlife's heartfelt homage not only shines a spotlight on an artist long deserving greater recognition, it's also a poignant reminder of another who, at 73, left this mortal coil far too soon.


Track Listing: Lullabye for Mothers (Good Morning); Freedom of Spirit; Rising to the Occasion; Behind Plastic Faces; Bloodlife; Dialogue of Angels; Lydia; Theme for a Prince; School; Our Inner Voice; Tales of Entropy 2; San Francisco; Rising to the Occasion (Reprise); Lullabye for Mothers (Good Night).

Personnel: Onaje Allan Gumbs: piano.

Year Released: 2014 | Record Label: Ejano Records | Style: Straight-ahead/Mainstream


Shop

More Articles

Read Transparent Water CD/LP/Track Review Transparent Water
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: February 20, 2017
Read Billows Of Blue CD/LP/Track Review Billows Of Blue
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: February 20, 2017
Read Love Dance CD/LP/Track Review Love Dance
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 20, 2017
Read Honest Woman CD/LP/Track Review Honest Woman
by James Nadal
Published: February 20, 2017
Read June CD/LP/Track Review June
by Karl Ackermann
Published: February 19, 2017
Read The Final Concert CD/LP/Track Review The Final Concert
by John Sharpe
Published: February 19, 2017
Read "Soul’s Journey Home" CD/LP/Track Review Soul’s Journey Home
by Jim Olin
Published: February 27, 2016
Read "Long After Midnight" CD/LP/Track Review Long After Midnight
by Edward Blanco
Published: June 21, 2016
Read "Louisiana Soul Revival featuring Doug Duffey" CD/LP/Track Review Louisiana Soul Revival featuring Doug Duffey
by James Nadal
Published: May 16, 2016
Read "Backlog" CD/LP/Track Review Backlog
by James Nadal
Published: November 29, 2016
Read "Sedimental You" CD/LP/Track Review Sedimental You
by Karl Ackermann
Published: October 29, 2016
Read "Ena / One" CD/LP/Track Review Ena / One
by Budd Kopman
Published: March 26, 2016

Post a comment

comments powered by Disqus

Sponsor: ECM Records | BUY NOW  

Support our sponsor

Support All About Jazz's Future

We need your help and we have a deal. Contribute $20 and we'll hide the six Google ads that appear on every page for a full year!

Buy it!