Recordings like Gary Bartz' Harlem Bush Music
are often lost to time and neglect. Because it addresses heady social issues (racism and war in this case), it is not an album for sipping wine or for just "chillin'." Just there, plenty of sales are lost to hipsters and trendsetters. Excluding this fickle crowd, though, it is still surprising that such an excellent album could remain so obscure.
Luckily, for those of us not present during its original release, Fantasy has taken the time and resources to find and reissue this superb document. Recorded in late '70 and early '71, Harlem Bush Music came with both the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement in full fury. Reissued in the midst of the Iraq conflict and with many questioning the lasting impact of the Civil Rights Movement, Harlem Bush Music remains extremely relevant. Though the album came at a time when Black Consciousness and Black Pride were coming to the fore of American culture, current times are such that its message of struggle, love and hope transcends racial categories. That is both a great testament to the power of this music, as well as to the dawning fact in this country that we're all in this together.
"A nation will rise, A nation must rise," Andy Bey's lucid vocals declare on the opening tune, "Rise." With a potent groove filling the background, Bey begins planting the seeds of questions in us when he asks, "Which will way you go? Which way will we go, if you say there's just one way?" Using jazz that is a little more soul than bop, Bartz, Bey and company present problems and solutions with urban sensibilities that are both urgent and wise. This is especially true on the opening sequence of tunes, "People Dance," "Drinking Song," and "Taifa."
Once it sways you to its rhythms, Harlem Bush Music takes unusual, though effective steps to further elaborate on its worries. Spoken word, unexpected shifts and even blatant uses of free jazz are used on some of the album's more powerful moments, like on "Parted," "The Warriors' Song," and "Blue." Yet if anything really stands out on this album, it is the grace and beauty of Andy Bey. Finally getting the recognition he deserves with albums like Shades of Bey and American Song, this is Bey in his youth: vibrant, defiant, and strong. By the time you hear his rebellious chant on "Uhuru Sasa," he's got you. His call is yours:
We won't raise your children
We won't fight your filthy battles
It works the blood, the mind and the imagination, especially when the next song "Vietcong," puts things in perspective.
At such moments, and there are several on Harlem Bush Music, the relevance of the album's message to our current state is startling. Have we learned anything? Have we made progress? These are questions for any patriot.
~ Germein Linares