JAZZ MUSIC INSPIRES POLITICAL CONTROVERSY & SPIRIT UPLIFT

By Dee Dee McNeil / Jazz Journalist
May 10, 2020

DAVE GLASSER – “HYPOCRISY DEMOCRACY” Here Tiz Music

Dave Glasser, alto saxophone/soprano saxophone/flute/composer; Andy Milne, piano; Ben Allison, bass; Matt Wilson, drums/percussion.

This is an album whose style and composition succinctly recalls Thelonious Monk in sound and production. The “Monk” style of this historic composer/pianist is obvious throughout this well-produced album. That being said, reedman, Dave Glasser, is a very fine composer in his on right and all four of these musicians are both stellar and steadfast in presenting their very best. Glasser admits in his liner notes:

“My roots are in the history of this music. That’s where my inspiration comes from. These guys have all worked in different areas doing their own thing. So, this is a group of people who have come together from very far-flung places. … Yet, we’ve managed to unite to find the things that we have in common instead of thinking about our differences. I think that parallels artistically what I see as a big problem facing society right now. People are focused on their differences, so they’re warring and arguing and blaming as opposed to looking at what they have in common.”

The title of this album, as well as the composition titles, stand as tall and speak as loudly as protest signs. Beginning with Glasser’s original tune, “Knit Wit” that reflects the rise of misunderstandings between human beings, via a difference in perception and or politics. It’s followed by track #2, “Justice” and there’s another song titled, “Freedom.” “Freedom” is one of my favorite cuts on this album, with Matt Wilson’s skillful drums prominent and fiery. Glasser rises to the occasion, both innovative and performing with tenor verve.

Dave Glasser comes from a social justice background. His father, Ira Glasser, was executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for more than 20-years. Young Dave met civil libertarian and notable jazz critic, Nat Hentoff when the budding saxophonist was pursuing excellence on his horn. It was Nat Hentoff who recommended Dave Glasser study with Lee Konitz. (Sadly, just last month we lost the great Lee Konitz when he became a casualty of the Coronavirus pandemic.) Dave Glasser tributes Mr. Konitz in his composition titled, “Glee for Lee.” He and drummer, Matt Wilson, duet on this piece. They are formidable. Wilson is a former collaborator with the late, great Konitz. Together, the two create a riveting arrangement. This album’s only non-original tune is the Disney classic, “It’s a Small World.” Dave Glasser interprets this tune using his flute. The quartet presents this familiar song thoughtfully, with Ben Allison’s bass the only instrument amply supporting the flute solo at first. When the other musicians enter, Andy Milne finds the most interesting and unusual chording to perpetuate the mood and melody. The quartet’s sense of freedom and inspired deliveries make this arrangement shimmer and glow.

Glasser is currently the lead altoist in the Count Basie Orchestra and he’s also a veteran of the Clark Terry quintet. He’s played with a plethora of legendary musicians including Barry Harris, Illinois Jacquet, Dizzy Gillespie and with the Basie band when it was under the direction of Frank Foster. A faculty member at the New School for over twenty-three years, Glasser enjoys mentoring many of the blossoming young jazz musicians of today. This is an album you will enjoy playing time and time again. It’s full of excitement and beauty; history and inventiveness. It touches on the pulse of the past and races into the future with the same jazzy exuberance.
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ARTURO O’FARRILL AND THE AFRO LATIN JAZZ ORCHESTRA “FOUR QUESTIONS” – Zoho Records

Arturo O’Farrill, piano/composer/arranger/conductor; Dr. Cornel West, orator; Ricardo Rodriguez & Gregg August, bass; Alison Deane, piano; Tony Rosa & Roland Guerrero, congas; Carly Maldonado, bongos/percussion; Joe Gonzalez, bongos; Vince Cherico, drums; TRUMPETS: Bryan Davis, Jim Seeley, Seneca Black, Adam O’Farrill, John Bailey, Jonathan Powell & David Smith. SAXES: Peter Brainin, Bobby Porcelli, Ivan Renta, Jeremy Powell, Larry Bustmante, Jason Marshall & David DeJesus. TROMBONES: Rafi Malkiel, Tokunori Kajiwara, Frank Cohen, Earl McIntyre, bass trombone & tuba; Seneca Black, voice. GUESTS: Jana Ballard, choral preparation; Aubrey Johnson & Edda Fransdottir, soprano solos; Sharon Moe, French horn; DJ Logic, turntables.

An avid supporter of all the arts, Arturo O’Farrill is the Professor of Global Jazz Studies at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) Herb Alpert School of Music. He is also on the faculty at The New School of The Manhattan School of Music, (where he received some of his formal music education). Born in Mexico, O’Farrill grew up in New York and began his professional career with the legendary Carla Bley Band. He was a mere nineteen-years-old. O’Farrill credits Carla Bley for teaching him about integrity and the importance of art. She drilled into the talented teenager that it was more important to perform and compose for the sake of art and not just for fame and money. The young pianist took that wise encouragement to heart.

As his reputation blossomed, he also worked with such legends as Dizzy Gillespie, Lester Bowie, Wynton Marsalis, Steve Turre and Harry Belafonte. In 2007, Arturo O’Farrill founded the Afro Latin Jazz Alliance (ALJA) as a non-profit organization dedicated to the performance, education and preservation of Afro Latin music. (http://www.afrolatinejazz.org)

They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree. Arturo is the son of renowned jazz trumpeter, bandleader and arranger, Chico O’ Farrill. His father was originally from Havana, Cuba. Arturo’s mother was a Mexican vocalist. Consequently, their house was always ripe with music. In 1965, they relocated to the United States. At age six, young Arturo was less than enthusiastic about taking piano lessons. However, he came to love the instrument and was greatly influenced by Bud Powell and Chick Corea. Although he studied and played a number of genres with various bands, in the 1990s Arturo returned to his Latin roots. In 1995 he became Music Director of his famous father’s Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra.

When Wynton Marsalis asked Arturo to pull together and lead an Afro-Cuban Jazz Band to perform at the Lincoln Center, that’s when O’Farrill formed the Afro Latin jazz Orchestra (ALJO). The rest is history.

“Baby Jack” is the first track on the Afro-Latin, Jazz Orchestra’s current album. The Brass section blares! Arturo O’Farrill’s piano enters the picture like a referee, stepping in between the dueling horns and bringing a melody that moves like an ascending staircase. We are lifted up. When the sexy saxophone comes into the picture, (featuring David DeJesus) the mood changes to pensive and seductive. This arrangement is both enchanting and captivating. Track #2 is titled “Jazz Twins” and is dedicated to Arnold and Donald Stanley from Los Angeles; two close knit staples of the jazz community. But it’s the third tune and the title tune, “Four Questions” that combines O’Farrill and his 18-piece orchestra with the spoken word and the revolutionary spirit of Dr. Cornel West. Together, they usher in a jolt of truth that demands that we, as a concerned people, come face-to-face with the social and political horrors of this time in world history. Like many true artists, Arturo O’ Farrill seeks to incorporate honesty and political awareness into his musical conversation. He uses his full orchestra, with a choir of voices, to express these unique arrangements.

The “Four Questions” that Dr. Cornel West addresses on this album were actually posed by the great African American civil rights activist and journalist, W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1903 book, “The Souls of Black Folk.” Dr. West based his book, “Black Prophetic Fire” on these very important “Four Questions.”

What does integrity do in the face of adversity and oppression? 2) What does honesty do in the face of lies and deception? 3) What does decency do in the face of insult? and 4) How does virtue meet brute force?

Amidst dramatic horns and orchestral contrary motion, a rhythmic groove is established to support the Dr. West eloquent oratory. He speaks about everybody being for sale. But where is integrity? “It’s in your struggle,” he says. “It’s in the music.”

To address the second question, he reminds us that we live in an age of criminality. Crimes rage on Wall Street, but they don’t go to jail. We have a corrupted system of incarceration.

“Are we willing to tell the truth; to unveil honesty?” he asks.

The dynamic arrangements of Arturo O’Farrill accentuate the Dr. West verbal diatribe. His music brings beauty to an ugly truth. The drums embrace cultures and blend into the presentation like the cultures within our own country. Music and art call attention to the tribe of humanity that populates Earth. This is sixteen minutes and fourteen seconds of historic realization.

Dr. West asks us: “How do you preserve the humanity of the others who are dehumanizing you? How do you preserve your spirit? Folks can’t ride your back unless it’s bent,” the learned man asserts.

Arturo O’Farrill’s music crosses cultures, blends borders and scratches against our brains like the spoken words of Dr. West. In harmony, they speak to us. Demand to be heard. This piece ends with an old, gospel spiritual song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” the horns ask us. Arturo Asks us. Dr. Cornel West asks us. The piano asks us. The orchestra whispers and weeps.

This is a project of pleasure and pain, like life itself. I will be surprised if this doesn’t join the list of Grammy Awards that Arturo O’Farrill has already won. At the 2008, 51st Grammy Award Ceremony, he won Best Latin Jazz Album for his “Song for Chico.”

In 2014, Arturo O’Farrill and the Chico O’Farrill Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra won the Latin Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Album titled, “Final Night at Birdland.” In 2015, he released “The Offense of the Drum” and Arturo O’Farrill and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra won a Grammy Award for Best Latin jazz Album. In August of 2015, Arturo and the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra released “Cuba: The Conversation Continues”, which was recorded in Havana 48 hours after President Obama announced plans to normalize diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba. This album was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble in 2016. Meantime, his “Afro Latin Jazz Suite” won the 2015 Best Instrumental Composition Award. Again, in 2017, he won for Best Instrumental Composition for “Three Revolutions.”

Perhaps Arturo O’Farrill best summed-up his music and his artistic direction with this quote:

“I made one rule for myself, and I really try to live it: Play music you love, with people you love, for people you love. If I can’t be that kind of musician, I’ll drive a cab.”
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FELIPE SALLES INTERCONNECTIONS ENSEMBLE – “THE NEW IMMIGRANT EXPERIENCE” Tapestry Record label

Felipe salles, composer/arranger/conductor; RHYTHM SECTION: Nando Michelin, piano; Kevin Grudecki, guitar; Ryan Fedak, vibraphone/marimba/Glockenspiel; Keala Kaumeheiwa, bass; Bertram Lehmann, drums/percussion. WOODWINDS: Jonathan Ball, alto & soprano saxophones/flute/piccolo; Aaron Dutton, alto & soprano saxes/flute; Mike Caudill, tenor & soprano saxes/flute/clarinet; Rick DiMuzio, tenor sax/clarinet; Tyler Burchfield, bari sax/bass clarinet/clarinet; TRUMPETS/FLUGELHORNS: Jeff Holmes, Don Clough, Yuta Yamaguchi, Eric Smith & Doug Olsen. TROMBONES: Clayton DeWait, Randy Pingrey, Bulut Gulen & Angel Subero on bass trombone.

This is music inspired by conversations with ‘Dreamers’. Felipe Salles is a musician and immigrant from Sao Paulo, Brazil who came to the United States in 1995. Consequently, he can relate to the lives and challenges faced by today’s seven-hundred-thousand young people who make up the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) Program. Using his 18-piece Felipe Salles Interconnections Ensemble, he’s recorded two CDs and a DVD, in this triple disc release, to feature his orchestra and to share speech cadences and melodic motifs that tell ‘Dreamer’ stories. Videos of the interviews, documenting individual stories and experiences, were created by Fernanda Faya. These are mixed into emotional musical journeys, using orchestral textures and big band power to present a sounding board for these immigrants.

Mr. Salles, the composer, arranger and conductor, has won numerous awards including a Guggenheim Foundation Composition Fellowship in 2018. In 2015, Salles was awarded a NALAC Fund for the Arts Grant. in 2009, he won a French American jazz Exchange Grant and in 2005 was granted a Chamber Music America grant for New Works. Felipe Salles’ arrangements and compositions have been performed by some of the top groups in the world including The Metropole Orchestra, UMO Helsinki Jazz Orchestra and the Cayuga Chamber Orchestra. Additionally, he has released seven critically acclaimed recordings as a bandleader. Spectacularly, he was listed in Downbeat Magazine’s Best Albums of the Year list in 2013, 2014, 2017 and 2019. On this project he has composed, arranged and conducted works specific to the new immigrant experience.

One of my favorite composition on the first disc was the funk driven, contemporary arrangement titled, “A Part and Not the Other.” It makes use of several mood and timing changes that intoxicate the listener’s interest. The exciting orchestral arrangements are unpredictable and exploratory.

“When I set out to create this project, I had no idea how much it would change my life. It has been an incredibly emotional two years of personal and artistic growth and I cannot express how grateful I am for this opportunity. It was an honor to meet all of my interviewees and to be given the gift of telling their story through my music. I hope this work will make a difference in educating people about the issues Dreamers and other immigrants face in America today,” Felipe Salles shared in his liner notes.


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CHICAGO YESTET – “NOT THERE YET” – Tiddlywinks Music

Joel Adams, conductor/composer/trombonist/bandleader; Maggie Burrell, vocals/lyrics; Keith Harris, spoken word/lyricist; Xavier Breaker, drums; Clark Sommers, bass; Stu Mindeman, piano; Mike Allemana, guitar; Tom Garling, trombone; Chuck Parrish & Russ Johnson, trumpets; Chris Madsen & Geof Bradfield, tenor saxophones; Nick Mazzarella, alto sax.

A distinct drum lick sets the pace and the groove. Electric piano chords play and compliment, while a police siren sings in the background. At first, it sounds like smooth jazz. Then, the arrangement transforms with Keith Harris adding spoken word to the lush orchestration created by Joel Adams. The words call attention to racial issues and a corrupted justice system. When Maggie Burrell’s sweet voice enters, she continues that story singing:

“… We search for reasons why; murder can be justified. …choke hold can’t be undone. A cigar or cigarettes; can’t you see we’re not there yet.”

This 13-piece, Chicago Yestet is directed by Joel Adams and has a mission. This is their third CD release and this power-house band continues to document the spirit, creativity and commitment to the music of artists who share a vision for art as a force for good.

“I am forever indebted to them for their invaluable contributions to this project and for the sacrifices they’ve made to help keep the band going and the music alive,” Adams proclaims.

These arrangements are smooth-jazz one moment, R&B funk the next and then they swing hard and make a sharp turn into the realms of straight-ahead jazz. Joel Adams is a very melodic composer and has penned all these songs except track #7, composed by John Coltrane. As the album rolls along, Joel’s arrangements merge hip hop with old school bebop into a unique and comfortable ball. You can hear it plainly on track #2 titled, “The Long Neglect.” Keith Harris is back to the microphone, rapping hard and strong. The band supports his lyrical tirade with a funk-groove, but once he steps away from the mic, they settle into a more bebop, big band sound. Joel Adams explains it this way:

Not There Yet reflects not only my admiration for Thad Jones and other big bands from the 1960s and 70s, but also my love for James Brown and Donny Hathaway. The Chicago Yestet is committed to grooving and not afraid to play simply and even pretty. We’re also willing to take on political issues through music,”
Adams says in his liner notes.

In 2019, the band was gifted a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency that made this recording possible. Formed in 2008, the Chicago Yestet performs original music with an emphasis on groove and truth. You’ll hear some musical phrases that will remind you of a Jill Scott production. Then something explosive happens, like the horns of the Basie Band. The soloists exemplify that they are musicians of high caliber with their technique and also, the honesty in their playing translates to a wonderful blend of youthfulness and history. They blend today’s popular musical genre and yesteryears jazzy and amazing big band era. This is a project that will both entertain and open the ears of the listeners to a multiplicity of fresh musical ideas and protest.
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CHRISTIAN McBRIDE – “THE MOVEMENT REVISITED: A MUSICAL PORTRAIT OF FOUR ICONS” – Mack Avenue Music Group

Christian McBride, composer/arranger/bassist; J.D. Steele, choir arranger/lead vocals; Alicia Olatuja, lead vocals; SPOKEN WORD NARRATIVE: Sonia Sanchez, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Dion Graham, Wendell Pierce. Geoffrey Keezer, piano; Warren Wolf, vibraphone/tambourine/timpani; Terreon Gully, drums; Michael Dease, Steve Davis & James Burton, trombones; Doug Purviance, bass trombone; Steve Wilson, alto saxophone/flute; Todd Bashore, alto sax; Ron Blake, tenor & soprano saxophone; Loren Schoenberg, tenor sax; Carl Marachi, baritone saxophone. CHOIR VOICES: Marvel Allen, Shani P. Baker, Jeffrey S. Bolding, Jeff Hamer, Susann Miles, Deborah Newallo, Eunice Newkirk, Claudine Recker, Trevor Smith & Melissa Walker.

Although this CD was released in February of this year,(during black history month), I felt it was a perfect fit for this column. I love the messages, positive, reflective and uplifting references by some of the black leaders born and bred in the United States of America. The various speakers reiterate the words of Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Beneath their words a loop of sound repeats itself. I expected Christian McBride to write something more creatively musical beneath their introductory, opening, poignant words. I thought this would have been a perfect place for his bass to interpret and support their messages. That was a little disappointing. However, that being said, after the lyrical speeches stop, he offers us a complete and exciting jazz big band arrangement that swings hard and strong. Also, I might add, in the suite dedicated to Malcolm X, McBride does use his bass talents to support the words of this great revolutionary. So, eventually my wish was granted a little further on in the production.

This suite of music was first written in 1998 as a result of a commission from the Portland (ME) Arts Society. Christian McBride explained:

“At that time, there was no big band involved. Just simply my quartet and a choir. …The commission specifically requested a choral element. I had little experience writing lyrics, much less writing for a choir.”

That’s where J.D. Steele comes to the rescue. He became McBride’s partner in this piece and did a monumental job arranging and orchestrating the voices. McBride’s original quartet, along with a small choir, played four concerts in seven days travelling to Oregon, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Idaho. Ten years later, in 2008, while Christian McBride was beginning his third season as the Los Angeles Philharmonic Creative Chair for Jazz, he was offered an opportunity to replay this project at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and with a full big band. The big band had been his dream all along, so McBride quickly agreed. Thus, developed this four-part suite for jazz big-band, small jazz group, gospel choir and four narrators. For the voice of Rosa Parks, McBride chose poet, author and activist, Sonia Sanchez.

“Sonia is one of our greatest voices. She was part of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and early 70s,” McBride explained.

For the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., he invited Wendell Pierce, the character actor from ‘The Wire’ and ‘Treme’. He also included actors Vondie Curtis-Hall and Dion Graham to play Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. The suite begins with the spotlight on Sister Rosa Parks. It moves to Malcolm X, with an introduction by the words of Rosa Parks. Malcolm’s suite includes the rich, emotional lead vocals of Alicia Olatuja singing Malcolm’s praises. The narrator-voice of Malcolm X eventually introduces his friend and follower, boxing champion and Muslim activist, Cassius Clay, who would change his name to Muhammad Ali. The fourth suite celebrates Dr. Martin Luther King. There is a fifth suite added to celebrate the election of President Barack Obama titled, “Apotheosis, November 4, 2008.” This came about after Christian McBride was invited to present his historic suite of music at the Detroit Jazz Festival and to expand it to include a tribute piece to our then, African-American, 44th President of the United States. This artistic and historic piece of music ends with quotes from Obama’s victory speech.

“It’s the answer spoken by young and old. Rich and poor. Democrat and Republicans. Black, white, Latino, Asian, Native American, gay, straight, disabled and not disabled; Americans who sent a message to the world that we have never been a collection of red states and blue states. We are the United States of America. … In this country we rise and fall as one people,” spoke President Obama.

This is an unusual and inspirational suite of music that should be a teaching aid in schools across the world and a collector’s gem in all jazz collections.

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