Poetry and jazz. Jazz and poetry have a long history together. From Langston Hughes to Kenneth Patchen, the spoken word messages of the poets have fit hand-in-glove with African-American music. In 1957 Charles Mingus recorded "Scenes In The City," documenting the hardscrabble life of an urban jazz disciple. Then came Gil Scott-Heron, The Last Poets, and later, rap music. We're talking pre-hip hop, what Chuck D of Public Enemy called "the CNN for black people." The combination not only entertained, but uplifted and educated.
Such is the objective of Nicole Mitchell's latest project, a collaboration with poet Haki Madhubuti. His Liberation Narratives: New And Collected Poems 1966-2009 is the catalyst for this live recording made just days after the election of Mr. Trump. Not since Kip Hanrahan's Conjure Music For The Texts Of Ishmael Reed (American Clavé, 1984) has an investigation of an African-American poet been this powerful. Madhubuti's poetry, which hasn't been recorded with accompaniment since the 1970s (with Geri Allen), provides an unabashed take on the state of the nation, and is a call for leadership and responsibility. He delivers his powerful spoken message, sometimes accompanied by the vocals of Ugochi, but always by Mitchell's music. Jazz is the medium, stoked by Jovia Armstrong and Tomas Fujiwara's Afrobeat rhythms. "Move Into Our Own" is an infectious muster for self-determination that awakens without being preachy. Mitchell's flute is ever present, opening "Poetry" before cello and violins introduce the poet's defense of versification. The tribute to his mentor, "Gwendolyn Brooks," is a dusty blues blown in on flute and Pharez Whitted's trumpet. Madhubuti recites over Miguel de la Cerna's piano, calling out all the variations of the word "black" that have entered into speech since the 1960s. The music/words are both a lesson and a collective memory.
Often Hard to Believe; Move Into Our Own; Gwendolyn Brooks; Too Many of Our
Young; Blackman Unfinished; Rise Vision; Peace Starts Inside of You; We Walk
the Way of the New World; Woman Black; Poetry.
Haki R. Madhubuti: spoken word; Ugochi: vocals; Pharez Whitted: trumpet;
Nicole Mitchell: flute; Renee Baker: violin; Zara Zaharieva: violin; Tomeka
Reid: cello; Miguel de la Cerna: piano; Harrison Bankhead: contrabass; Jovia
Armstrong: percussion; Tomas Fujiwara: drumset.
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