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Album Review

The Dunbarton Oakes Trio: We Have Become Our Ancestors


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"We didn't want just to deconstruct our catalog, we wanted to burn it down." So writes trumpeter Dunbarton Oakes in the liner notes for We Have Become Our Ancestors. His namesake trio (a group as old as the average U.S. Senator) did just that but torched Oakes' home studio in the process, resulting in a four-year delay in the recording session. The trio formed out of the 45th Airborne Division of the U.S. Army at the end of WWII. None of its members recalls whose idea it was. Oakes played cornet in the infantry marching band. Ottilie Elowen originally played side drum (and occasionally, fife) but now focuses on djembe. If her name sounds familiar, it may be because she is the granddaughter of Kid Ory's popular harmonium player, Lady Byrd Elowen. Kofi Babatunde has also adapted to contemporary times, replacing his tuba with a bass guitar. We Have Become Our Ancestors has earned the distinction of receiving a Parental Advisory label while having no lyrics.

The music here is imbued with the spirit of Béla Bartók, who said of the original Oakes Trio, "I have watched them play, but I tried not to listen." We Have Become Our Ancestors double-CD collection would have benefitted from some downsizing. A case in point, half of the first disc is occupied by an excruciatingly long and repetitive djembe slap on "Am I Repeating Myself? Am I Repeating Myself?" For personal amusement, the trio takes a "senior" twist on "Speak Low," with their "Speak Up." The play on words is conveyed through Oakes' intimidating, directionless growl, his embouchure far beyond repair. Oakes and Babatunde put a unique slant on the near-standard, "Peripheral Visionary." Elowen is so enthralled with the dialog exchange that she misses her cue and does nothing.

Fans of the Dunbarton Oakes Trio may be disappointed at the shortened versions of "Why Can't Natasha Go Bowling?" and "I'm the Only Hell You'll Ever Know." We Have Become Our Ancestors is only the second recording from the Dunbarton Oakes Trio. Their debut It's Not Rocket Surgery (Purgatory Records, 1947) was an obscure failure. It led to the members taking jobs at carnivals and recording cartoon music. But Oakes, Elowen, and Babatunde never forgot each other. Well, actually, they did. They have forgotten almost everything including how to play their instruments. All of which makes this album great, and freewheeling fun. But, forgettable. Spare yourself.

Track Listing

Am I Repeating Myself? Am I Repeating Myself?; We Have Become Our Ancestors; Speak Up; Peripheral Visionary; Why Can't Natasha Go Bowling?; I'm the Only Hell You’ll Ever Know.


Additional Instrumentation

Dunbarton Oakes: trumpet; Ottilie Elowen: djembe; Kofi Babatunde: bass guitar.

Album information

Title: We Have Become Our Ancestors | Year Released: 2023 | Record Label: Purgatory Records

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