Collaborations are quite common projects in the jazz world, and in most forms of music, for that matter. Collaborations, however, are slightly more rare when a modern day composer's album is in conjunction with a composer from the nineteenth century. Such is the case with the works of Louis Moreau Gottschalk (1829-1869) melding with composer and trumpeter Yohan Giaume. Giaume has had a deep connection, both musically and intellectually, with Gottschalk for many years. Gottschalk's world travels, influences, and notable African and New Orleans based origins, are remarkably similar to Giaume's. The unparalleled linkage has facilitated Giaume to essentially cross the telepathic pathways of Bourbon Street and meet Gottschalk for far more than a beignet. With a whisper of modernization, the time honored sensibilities are intact. Remarkable how much yesterday is concurrent with today's challenges and current events.
In truth, these musical conversations have revealed the same racial tensions, social inequalities, torment, and bigotry, as well as the rhythmical and soulful forms of expressionism in the musicality. The storytelling record, reveals itself in equal balance of spoken word and instrumentation. "Le Poète Mourant" opens the movement gently, with an emerging trumpet pop from Giaume, that slides into a nifty piano trio gait. Elegantly canopied with strings, the scene is now set to let the story unfold. Spoken word becomes critical as Giaume wastes no time getting to the heart of the matter. Paraphrasing, we have grown tired of the "Masquerade," is the theme. We are told most eloquently about no longer tolerating being who society wants us to bethat it has been no cakewalk, and that the masquerade is over and that we are free to be who we want to be. There is much more to be said in a powerful song, that also stands up musically.
In all there are twelve compositions. A couple of pure and rousing instrumentals speak for themselves. However, there is much more to be said. It's all stated clearly, emotionally, and from the soul, as much as from the heart. Humanity and societal morays meet at the crossroads, as did Giaume and Gottschalk. African lore tells us that the truth is always revealed there. Of consequence, more than an homage to Gottschalk, the compositions were written together through the passage of time.
Other highlights of the journey include "Bamboula Dreams Part One and Part Two" and "Life Cycle Part One and Part Two." The latter is cleverly played as death in part one, and birth later, after going through "The Passage." Though chronologically transposed, musically it sequenced beautifully. The dearth of life's end, the funeral, the sadness, the gloom in one's memory, was played with profound and most sincere warmth. We hear piano and violin excursions both mournfully and gloriously drilled with ardor. The trumpet and clarinet solos seem to echo all of life's indignities. Heard later, the birth can now be appreciated in a way that allows for the positives and wonders of life not be taken for granted. To be able to now set aside the despair, and embrace all the goodness to come. Yes, the birth was played with gusto and with celebration at its core. Quite uplifting at any rate, but certainly even more engagingly so, after the anguish of part one.
The record ends where it started with "Le Poete Mourant." This time it is as spoken word. Voiced in French, the poetry of Alphonse de Lamartine is the lament and virtue of The Dying Poet
. The words are deeply structured in the dearth of humanity, sparsity of life, and haunting reminders of its fragility. This epic work, first printed in 1835, judiciously expands on the finality of the adventure, and wonders aloud of the melodic content that survives and awaits the aftermath. This is merely a cookie crumble of all that it states. The lengthy and highly intelligent prose is so modern-day relevant that it belies its nearly two hundred year existence. While separate from the Giaume/Gottschalk historical alliance, it deftly demonstrates the timeless and generational connectivity at the core of this project.
Albeit a grand one, it is important to note that the poem is still but a footnote to this historical musical conversation. Tracing the musical lineage of Africa, Europe, and America becomes a fascinating and creative journey for Giaume. The French composer's encounter with nineteenth century American Gottschalk led to this boldly imaginative creation of centuries apart symmetry.
Le Poète Mourant; Mascarade; Lisette; Cold Facts; The Promise of Dawn; Bamboula Dreams Part 1; Bamboula Dreams Part 2; Lez African E La; Life Circle Part 1; The Passage; Life Circle Part 2; Le Poete Mourant poem (Bonus track).