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Jacques Coursil: Trails of Tears

Raul d'Gama Rose By

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Jacques Coursil: Trails of Tears Trumpeter, Jacques Coursil's Trails of Tears is quite simply, a monumental undertaking and a major work that ought to bring to light some of the earlier work that comments on colonialism in America, such as the equally important Gorée (Schemp, 1984), from Beaver Harris/Don Pullen 360˚ Experience; that composition itself being a strident dirge about the history of slavery in the western-most point of Africa, which was, at one time the centre of the slave trade. It was from Gorée that white colonialists bought Africans as slaves, transporting them from this point in West Africa to South America, notably Brazil as well as to the Caribbean, and also to what is now the continental US. Why is this preamble so important to Trails of Tears?

Well, for one, this album is a moving lament, a dirge that mirrors one of the worst displacements of Native American people, hauntingly similar to the displacement of the African Diaspora. Only this music describes the lament of a people—the Cherokee, who were forced to leave their traditional homelands in Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee between 1830 and 1839, a slap in the face of one of the most civilized, loyal Native Americans delivered from the so called colonial government. The history of this heartbreaking migration comes vividly alive in the remarkable and dramatic lamentation in seven parts. This is Coursil's musical Way of the Cross, one that unfolds like a sharp angular liturgy that is sure to become part of the literature of the trumpet, something that has not been added to music since Wynton Marsalis' From the Plantation to the Penitentiary (Blue Note, 2007) and, of course, Beaver Harris' and Don Pullen's seminal work on vinyl.

The tears are heard from the beginning, on "Nunna Daul Sunyi" (the trails where we wept). The dry-eyed weeping of the dramatis personae is offset by the viscosity of the stream that emerges from Coursil's horn. His unique deconstruction of the language of the trumpet and subsequent recreation lies somewhere in between that jungle growling rap of Bubber Miley and Rex Stewart, and Coursil's own Creole vocalizations, through uniquely pursed embouchure and ululating with tongue and cheeks. Both seem inextricably locked in with mind body and soul. This gives his work behind the horn a vivid and unheard of quality. His rhythmic attack is magnificent and primordial, and he is in fine company with the likes of alto saxophonist Mark Whitecage, keyboardist Jeff Baillard and pianist Bobby Few, especially on his airy meandering in "The Removal Act II," the concluding part of the two-part suite that aurally paints the haunting uprooting of a people and their dissipation as a tribe in exile. And then there is "Gorée" and "The Middle Passage," that bring the liturgy of this great lamentation to a merciless end.

Trails of Tears is the work of a musician with a magical, burnished horn, who stands head and shoulders above most trumpeters practicing their craft today.

Track Listing: Nunna Daal Sunyi; Tagaloo, Georgia; Tahlequah, Oklahoma; The Removal Act I; The Removal Act II; Gorée; The Middle Passage.

Personnel: Jacques Coursil: trumpet; Jeff Baillard: keyboards, Fender Rhodes (1-3, 6, 7); Alex Bernard: double bass (1-3, 6, 7); José Zébina: drums (1-4, 6, 7); Mark Whitecage: alto saxophone (4); Perry Robinson: clarinet (4); Bobby Few: piano (4, 5); Alan Silva: double-bass (4); Sunny Murray: drums (4).

Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Sunnyside Records | Style: Free Improv/Avant-Garde


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