It's been nearly 70 years since the film The Best Years Of Our Lives won seven Academy Awards, including one for Best Picture (1946). The story revolved around three returning WWII veterans and their difficulties adjusting to civilian life. While those veterans came back to the economic powerhouse that was the United States, today's returning soldiers from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars find a country with the same meager prospects that perhaps drove them to enlist in the first place.
Although the government has done it's best to shield civilians from seeing coffins returning or video of the wars, the returning soldiers do live amongst us. They are our sons and daughters, brothers, mothers, and neighbors.
Pianist Vijay Iyer and poet/MC Mike Ladd collaborated on a Holding It Down: The Veterans' Dreams Project a multimedia performance with music, video, and spoken word. The audio, recorded in studio, is presented here not as jazz music per se, but as accompaniment to the seemingly impossible entangled dreams of veterans. Like their two previous discs, In What Language (Pi Recordings, 2004) based on = people of color in airports post-9/11 and Still Life With Commentator (Savoy, 2007) a meditation on the 24-hour news culture, the pair shed light on topics mainstream media chooses to ignore. With the help of two poets' first-person accounts, Marine Maurice Decaul and Air Force drone pilot Lynn Hill, the project delivers the lives, fears, hopes, memories, and illusions and delusions of veterans of color.
The dreams spoken are so powerful, it is possible to ignore the music. Whether it is Ladd, Pamela Z, Guillermo E. Brown, Hill, or Decaul speaking, the stories of the nine different veterans presented over the 17 tracks, the accompaniment of assorted acoustic and electronic grooves serve the words rather than distract. Repeated spins of the disc and Liberty Ellman's bubble up around Decaul's words on "Tormented Star Of Morning" and Iyer's piano acts as requiem for Hill's "Dreams In Color" where she speaks "When I dream, I dream of normalcy, I dream the color of peace." The electronic bleeps and bits highlight the disconnect the veterans have with the reality of their homeland's normalcy.
The recording doesn't call for understanding, as much as for empathy for our veterans.
Here (Mike, Cambridge); Derelict Poetry (Maurice, Brooklyn); Capacity
(Lynn, Bronx); Walking with the Duppy (Rashan, Queens); There is a Man
Slouching in the Stairway (Maurice); My Fire (Brad, Chester, NC); On
Patrol (Maurice, Brooklyn); Dream of an Ex-Ranger (William, Newton,
MA); Name (Lynn, Bronx); Costume (Mike, Cambridge);
Tormented Star of Morning (Maurice, Brooklyn); Patton (Calvin,
Massapequa, NY); Shush(Maurice, Brooklyn); REM Killer (Kirk,
Lexington, KY); Requiem for an Insomniac (Maurice, Brooklyn); Dreams
in Color (Lynn, Bronx); Mess Hall (Merrin, San Diego).
Vijay Iyer: compositions, piano, Fender Rhodes piano, programming, live
electronics; Mike Ladd: lyrics, vocals, effects; Kassa Overall: drums;
Liberty Ellman: guitar; Guillermo E. Brown: vocals, effects; Okkyung
Lee: cello; Pamela Z: composition, vocals with live processing; Lynn
Hill; lyrics, vocals; Maurice Decaul: lyrics, vocals.
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