This is an album one really wants to love but ends up applauding more for its intention than its realisation. Drummer Donald Edwards has composed a suite which addresses the race hate which besmirches America and which, observed from the other side of the pond, seems to have become more bitter and entrenched with the passing years.
On the opening "Little Hopes," a young girl identified as Sophia Edwards, possibly Edwards' daughter, relates with affecting simplicity her colour-blind love for her rainbow community of school friends. On "Tan," towards the album's end, an adult man, Frank Lacy, delivers impassioned spoken word with the running refrain, "Freedom... Democracy... Equality."
There are no other vocals on The Color Of US Suite and that is the first problem. Unless you have read Edwards' sleeve notes setting out the specific issues each section of the suite addresses, all the tracks bar the aforementioned "Little Hopes" and "Tan" could be about pretty much anything you like. Another issue-based 2021 album, British composer Ed Puddick's all-instrumental suite Crazy Days (ATS Records), concerning Britain's exit from the European Union, though a magnificent piece of music, faces similar problems of interpretation. Without knowledge of the sleeve note, it is "just" high-grade big band music.
In that context, Christian McBride's The Movement Revisited (Mack Avenue, 2020) comes to mind. McBride's suite is concerned with subjects adjacent to those of Edwards' The Color Of US Suite, and by augmenting his orchestra with sung and spoken word expositions McBride makes his intended message crystal clear. Another bassist, Charles Mingus, alive and politically engaged when the story McBride relates was being written, used spoken word, and plain-speaking track titles, with similar efficacy.
Which brings us to this album's other problem. Edwards, who has recorded with the Mingus Big Band and Mingus Dynasty, and been the drummer on two albums by mid-1970s Mingus sideman, trumpeter Jack Walrath, does not possess Mingus' genius for composing and arranging. The material on The Color Of US Suite, despite the notable contributions of tenor saxophonist Abraham Burton and electric guitarist David Gilmoreand of Edwards himself, a solid as a rock sticksmanall sounds a tad samey. Edwards is coming from the right place and is heading in the right direction, but this album does not succeed in carrying at least one listener with it all the way.
Little Hopes; Red; White; Blue; Intro To Black; Black; Brown; Tan; Finding Beauty; Hurricane
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In addition to writing and editing for All About Jazz, Chris is editor of the British style/culture/history magazine Jocks&Nerds and consultant Afrobeat historian for Google Arts & Culture and Partisan/Knitting Factory Records.