Who is Bob Washington? The man’s anonymity is almost a certainty to listeners of creative improvised music. But hopefully that’s about to change with the release of this CIMP disc, his debut and an instant catalyst for the question “Where the hell has this guy been all these years?” Truth be told, Washington has worn many hats during a life that’s spanned some eighty odd years. He’s been an Army serviceman, a jazz trumpeter, a postal employee, a social worker and an activist. Through each of these vocational incarnations he’s carried the torch of poet and it’s through these means that he finds an expressive voice on this recording.
Adopting the fictional alias of Darby Hicks, the African American counterpart to the Kilroy character of World War II, Washington spends the better part of an hour recounting personal milestones passed over a half century of trying to make it both as a man and an artist. It’s a pleasure to be privy to the journey, and Washington’s musings suck one in from the start. CIMP mainstays Duval and Swell provide improvised accompaniment to the poet’s relaxed and often simple-rhyming stanzas. Broken into easy and listenable episodes, each one is packed with humor and clever cultural observations. The entire libretto to the Hicks saga is printed in micro-font in the liner notes for convenient reference. Washington’s flair for detail devoid of the need for unnecessary verbal clutter makes the minutes pass quickly. His recollections spool out so seamlessly that it’s often tempting to stop the disc and backtrack so as to stroll again through his richly verbalized imagery. Swell and Duval respond in kind on the musical front, painting an emotive aural backdrop for Washington’s wisdom-dipped words.
These are the kinds of projects that truly set CIMP apart as a label and most clearly accentuate its value as medium for uncompromising creative expression. For all the flak fired at his obstinacy regarding what some call antiquarian recording techniques, Bob Rusch’s artistic vision and willingness to completely forego commercial concerns in favor of helping otherwise silent voices be heard has to be commended. Washington’s sophomore follow-up may not be forthcoming in the near future, but at least a document now exists that can stand as proof of his eventual passing. It’s a highly personalized program that adamantly announces the old adage- “better late, than never.”