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Salim Washington Harlem Arts Ensemble: Harlem Homecoming

Nic Jones By

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Harlem Homecoming is a celebration of what this music ought to be all about. It's also some kind of antidote to all the technically proficient but ultimately clinical modern mainstream stuff, and its uninhibited joyfulness brings a smile to the face and a fire to the heart.

For evidence of this, look no further than the title track. The section work is of the order which would have had Mingus shouting his exhortations, and Melanie Dyer's viola extends the modest (if nearly nonexistent) history of that instrument in this music; Washington himself solos on tenor sax as though his life depended on it, and the whole makes for the kind of listening that's scarce these days.

The term "incendiary" is sometimes applied to the alto sax, but here in the hands of Kurtis Rivers on "Maestro Joe, its use is no hyperbole, and that downright contagious joy of life comes through on the same track via Kuumba Frank Lacy's trombone. Donald Smith's piano, with its sly allusion to the barrelhouse, has in it a weight of history that seems like anything but a burden.

Lacy's "Stranded shows also that this band has a grasp of tonal colour that sets it apart. Henry Cook's alto flute is prominent in the theme statement before Washington solos on tenor sax and shows how John Coltrane's influence doesn't have to manifest itself in the slavish devotion to that master's methodology; Washington's work has about it a similarity of urgency in musical communication, and the results are again ripe with the kind of life that a whole lot of musicians just don't seem able to hit at the moment.

On "Horace T Waldron Ricks gets a trumpet sound fat enough to pass for flugelhorn, and his lyricism is joy for the ears. Again the ensemble wastes no time in hitting the spot throughout this one, and the results are again the product of some kind of urgency that could just be defined as life.

Hell, this all adds up to a wakeup call as much as it does a programme of music. Anyone eager to have their faith in this music restored—and those who suffer from jaded ear syndrome—will be doing themselves a favour by hearing this one.


Track Listing: Morning Is the Time For Miricles; Harlem Homecoming; Country Walk; Maestro Joe; In Search of Sane Alternatives; Jamila; Stranded; Horace T; There Is Now Grass Growing In Antarctica; How Great Thou Art/Yes Lord.

Personnel: Salim Washington: tenor saxophone, flute, oboe, vocals; Kuumba Frank Lacy: trombone, flugelhorn; Waldron Ricks: trumpet; Melanie Dyer: viola; Kurtis Rivers, Henry Cook: reeds/woodwinds; Rumas Barrett: percussion; Donald Smith: piano; Andy McCloud, Steve Neil: bass; Malik Washington, Mark Johnson, Taru Alexander: drums; Aaron Johnson: tuba.

Title: Harlem Homecoming | Year Released: 2006 | Record Label: Ujam Records

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