Malachi Thompson's Africa Brass project embodies all the variety and complexity of his Chicago home base: the urban experience of African Americans transplanted from the rural south; the blending of blues and jazz as musicians stepped out of juke joints and onto the stages of supper clubs; the respect for tradition tempered by the desire for innovation and individuality; the value of work towards self-determination.
Africa Brass is a working group made up of Chicago players who make the case that the only way for the music to thrive is to embrace the past while integrating modern experience. The centerpiece of Blue Jazz is the "Black Metropolis Suite," a swaggering, swinging composition in four parts led by Thompson's keening trumpet and anchored by his free bop band, with alto great Gary Bartz and tenor man Billy Harper taking solo spots. Harrison Bankhead's loping bass supplies the pulse, and augmented by four more trumpets and four trombones, the full band evokes the mood of a city brimming with life and activity. In the second suite, "Blues for a Saint Called Louis," Thompson simultaneously pays homage to his idol Louis Armstrong and traces the legend's journey from his modest beginnings in New Orleans ("Po' Little Louie") through his trek north ("Get on the Train") and his ultimate rise as an international star (the title section).
Rounding out the recording are three stand-alone cuts. A Latinized cover of "Footprints," the R&B blowout "Mud Hole," featuring a demented vocal from local hero The Big DooWopper, and brassy singer Dee Alexander putting forth Thompson's rhetorical argument in "Blue Jazz": Who put the jazz inside my blues? Who put the blues inside my jazz? For fans of music in the 20th Century, from Dixieland through big band, bebop, and Chicago's AACM and its motto of "Great Black Music: Ancient to the Future," the questions are irrelevant. Thompson's Africa Brass just lets it roll.
Track Listing: 1 Black Metropolis 9:12
2 The Panther 6:50
3 Jaaz Revelations 5:35
4 Genesis/Rebirth 10:39
5 Po' Little Louie 3:43
6 Get on the Train 4:14
7 Blues for a Saint Called Louis 5:50
8 Blue Jazz 8:30
9 Footprints 9:19
10 Mud Hole 4:31
Personnel: Dee Alexander: Vocals;
Kenny Anderson: Trumpet;
Harrison Bankhead: Bass;
Gary Bartz: Alto and Soprano Sax;
Steve Berry: Trombone;
The Big DooWopper: Vocals;
Ari Brown: Clarinet, Tenor Sax;
Elmer Brown: Trumpet;
Kirk Brown: Organ, Piano;
Billy Harper: Tenor Sax;
Leon Jr. Joyce: Drums;
Bill McFarland: Trombone;
David Spencer: Trumpet;
Malachi Thompson: Trumpet, Flugelhorn;
Kirk Tracy: Trombone.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.