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The Politics of Dancing: Jazz and Protest, Part 2

Karl Ackermann By

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In writing about the philosophy of The Core Trio, trumpeter Tim Hagans makes the point that ..."true jazz is, and always has been, subversive." Similarly, Rob Mazurek has expressed the opinion that his music is a form of protest against conventional obstacles to creative freedom. Music has as long a history in protest as the act of protest itself. The ancient West African griots, would sometimes use their bard-like role to express their musical criticism of a king or tribal leader. Fast forward to new millennium and we hear of Brazilian workers singing their protests of pension cuts in 2017. The same year gives us trumpeter Avishai Cohen addressing Middle East turmoil on Cross My Palm with Silver (ECM, 2017) with titles such as "Will I Die, Miss? Will I Die?" and "Shoot Me in The Leg."

Music has clearly influenced Civil Rights and Anti-war movements in creating more awareness and lending a memorable humanitarian voice but like legal measures, it cannot be depended upon to alter human nature in any significant way. But what seems to be reliable over an extended history, is that the music of protest will not stop. Recent years have seen both tribute and renewal in recordings that deal with equality and human rights. Two notable references are Wadada Leo Smith's Ten Freedom Summers and Noah Preminger's Meditations on Freedom.

Noah Preminger: Meditations on Freedom (Self-produced, 2017)

Open and civil discourse has always been a tenant of democracy. Recent political events in the U.S. have reduced that discourse to a crude, gutter-level low that has left an alienated population in its wake, marginalized and left without a strong voice. From the time of our Civil War, protest music has provided counsel for vulnerable segments of society. With Meditations on Freedom saxophonist Noah Preminger adds his voice to the ranks of Mingus and Haden.

Preminger's quartet of trumpeter Jason Palmer, bassist Kim Cass and Ian Froman on drums has been together on two recent releases, Pivot: Live At the 55 Bar (Self-Produced, 2016) and Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground (Self-Produced, 2016). Paying homage to the Mississippi Delta Blues has been an extended objective of Preminger's and he applies some of the same techniques to the music of protest on Meditations on Freedom in that he is neither nostalgic nor dismissive of the source of inspiration.

The album opens with Bob Dylan's early Civil Rights classic "Only a Pawn in Their Game" from The Times They Are A-Changin' (Columbia, 1964) and takes a reverential approach to the original for much of its playing time before allowing for some heartfelt improvisation. "The Way It Is," Bruce Hornsby's more modern statement on prejudice and apathy takes an edgier slant compared to the ironically melodic original. Another anthem of the Civil Rights Movement—Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come"—has the delta blues feel and radiates emotion. The last of the cover songs is George Harrison's "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)" which the ex-Beatle wrote as part of his ongoing humanitarian aid project to bring awareness to the plight of Bangladesh refugees.

In the spirit of the cover pieces, Preminger's original compositions broadcast the same sense of urgency. "We Have a Dream" swings in conveying a sense of hope while the environmentally focused "Mother Earth" has an urgency appropriate to the ravages of climate change. The time changes of "Women's March" reflect a renewed realization that we can too easily move one step forward and two back. "The 99 Percent" and "Broken Treaties" are studies in frustration and disengagement, both with elements of anger and melancholy but neither without hope. With Meditations on Freedom, Preminger gives weight to the significance of our concerns and a wake-up call to those who disregard past history.

Track Listing: Only a Pawn in Their Game; The Way It Is; A Change Is Gonna Come; We Have a Dream; Mother Earth; Women's March; The 99 Percent; Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth); Broken Treaties.

Personnel: Noah Preminger: saxophone; Jason Palmer: trumpet; Kim Cass: double-bass; Ian Froman: drums.

Wadada Leo Smith: Ten Freedom Summers (Cuneiform Records, 2012)

Ten Freedom Summers is a sprawling, visionary four-disc collection that plays out like a living memorial of the Civil Rights Movement and its actors. Smith's core Golden Quartet, with John Lindberg on bass, pianist Anthony Davis and drummer Pheeron akLaff, add percussionist Susie Ibarra as the jazz component of the recording. The Southwest Chamber Music Ensemble adds a broader range while challenging genre assumptions. The two groups work in conjunction on some compositions and independently on others.


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