Drummer Ralph Peterson's righteous mission is the continuum of late mentor Art Blakey with the all cylinders burn of the Messengers Legacy performances and twenty-five recordings, including 2020's charismatic Onward & Upward (Onyx Productions). He chooses trumpeter Alonzo Demetrius as his first label mate to help bring the even larger legacy of the black movement forward.
Samples of a 2003 speech from of activist Angela Davis open Demetrius's episodic debut suite Live From The Prison Nation. She's discussing prison reform and its consequential and existential impact on one and all. It's a sad matter that has breen uncomfortably and unendingly argued since well before they, the quintet, and many an AAJ reader, were born. But it's the young trumpeter and his emphatic cohorts who take up the dispute, fully engaging in it with a tangibly subversive, less fractional, pissed-off notion that underlies the seductively soothing, outside smoothness of the overall sound. Given the obvious friction we all readily inhabit, Live From The Prison Nation, on that elemental level alone, exudes as much promise as it brings to the table. And then some.
Demetrius enters the conversation behind Davis then the band: saxophonist Yesseh Furaha-Ali, pianist Daniel Abraham Jr, bassist Benjamin Jephta and drummer Brian Richburg Jr, who soon make "Expectations" a swirling, serpentine array of voices both ancient and newborn in accord. "The Principle" emerges from the blur of history and its many iterations slowly, paced to remind even the most casual listener this thing we call a perfect union is going to take some time, but it's time to get started.
The true beauty of Live From The Prison Nation, be it the golden groove that takes out "Yesseh's Interlude," or a natural break in the lesson at hand that gives saxophonist Furaha-Ali a moment to exhale his deep chops, leading into the spaciousness of "Mumia's Guidance," is that no one voice here overshadows the other. No other voice is more important or impertinent than the other, thus making the conversation civil. Something sorely lacking in our zoom-a-day world.
Many may wear their passions on their sleeve, but none wear it more passionately than Demetrius, whose sound and vision echoes that of Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah and Roy Hargrove. This is good music to sink into, reflect upon, and act on.
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