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For more than two decades the Howard University Jazz Ensemble has affirmed its prowess with an annual recording, but HUJE ’02 is far more earnest and impassioned than the enterprises that preceded it. Recorded a little more than seven months after the world-shaking events of September 11, ’01, the album opens with an homage to the victims and survivors of those horrendous assaults in the form of two poems by Frederick C. Tillis, “Gotham City: 9/11” and “An International Rage,” set to music and adroitly performed by the ensemble with Tillis’ powerful verses narrated by Al Freeman Jr.
After that cathartic episode, the ensemble steps aside for the seven-member a cappella vocal group Afro Blue, which performs Duke Ellington’s soul-stirring hymn “Come Sunday,” featuring contralto Egheosa Passion Igbinoba. Another paean to the victims and survivors in New York City and Washington, Yusef Lateef’s poignant “Sylogism 9/11/01” follows, with narration by Donna Rose Washington and solos by Sais Kamalidin (harmonica), pianist Jin Kim and trumpeter Marlon Winder.
The point of view becomes decidedly more upbeat as Afro Blue returns to bustle through Ellington’s “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing),” after which alto Jerrell Hollis Whitaker casts a dreamy spell on Hamilton Hayes’ tender ballad “Gettin’ in the Mood.” Dave Brubeck’s “In Your Own Sweet Way,” featuring trombonist Mark Williams, is dedicated to the memory of Stephanie Veronica Irby, one of the many hundreds who perished in the inferno that brought down NYC’s Twin Towers on 9/11/01.
Switching gears again, the ensemble performs a trio of charming songs by Antonio Carlos Jobim: “Triste,” “Aqua de Beber” and “Aqua de Marco” with solos by pianist Kim, flugel Aaron Broadus and drummer McClenty Hunter Jr. Kim. Williams and drummer Jonathan Laine are front and center on Bill Evans’ “Waltz for Debbie,” Broadus as trumpeter on his own composition, “The Dark Side,” and as vocalist on Stevie Wonder’s “You and I” and “Knocks Me Off My Feet.”
As always, the ensemble is outstanding, the music persuasive, the soloists bright and engaging, giving rise to another fabulous showcase for HUJE, this one with a purpose.
Track Listing: For the Victims and Survivors of September 11 (Gotham City / An International Rage); Come
Sunday; Sylogism; It Don
Personnel: Fred Irby III, director; Jerrell Hollis Whitaker, alto, soprano sax; Charles Medearis, Angela Everett,
alto sax; Joseph Bernard Whitney III, Don Caggins Jr., tenor sax; Nikia Ayana Boston, baritone sax;
Nicole Elizabeth Williams, French horn; Aaron Broadus, trumpet, flugelhorn, composer, arranger,
vocalist; Columbus Wynn III, Darius Smith, Charles Gunter, Charles Washington, trumpet,
flugelhorn; Travis Parson, Marlon Winder, trumpet; Paul Phifer, Mark Williams, Kenneth D. Gill II, Eric
Perkins, trombone; Don DeMarco Myles, bass trombone, tuba; Jin Kim, Milton Taylor Pace, piano;
Russell Carter Jr., vibes; James Rodney Richardson, electric guitar; Hamilton Hayes, composer,
acoustic bass, electric bass; Eric Wheeler, acoustic bass; Cora C. Coleman, drums, tympani;
McClenty Hunter Jr., Jonathan Laine, drums, percussion. Special guests -- Afro Blue (Connaitre
Miller, director; Thomas Bowman Jr., Kim Douglas, Carlton Hicks, Sharena Howard, Egheosa
Passion Igbinoba, Nia Simmons, Jamall White).