United States jazz and politics

This music video is called World Saxophone Quartet “Tribute to Duke Ellington” – JazzFest Berlin 1987.

By Chris Searle:

Yes We Can

World Saxophone Quartet (jazzwerkstatt)

Wednesday 12 September 2012

“Today isn’t about the black struggle any more. It’s about the class struggle. The poor urgently need to form an alliance against the greedy rich.”

These aren’t the kind of words you would expect to read within the sleeve notes of a jazz album, even if they were spoken by David Murray – probably the prime tenor saxophonist of his generation – a successor and true inheritor of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and John Coltrane.

They accompany the newest album of the World Saxophone Quartet, Yes We Can, the title words which were of course the war words of the massive campaign to elect Barack Obama to the US presidency in 2008.

And this album follows the 2005 record Political Blues, full of direct and damning criticism of the Bush years in the White House and a presidency of war, imperial arrogance and domestic neglect of the poor and those assailed by natural catastrophe.

In the same sleeve notes Murray is still hopeful about Obama as “someone we can trust,” although many among his people are not, as they contemplate the present administration’s actions and inactions across the world stage and the disappointments and deflated hopes from Palestine and Guantanamo to Venezuela and Afghanistan.

The quartet was created in 1976 and made many of its empowering and pioneering albums in the Reagan years, when it consisted of Murray, altoist Oliver Lake, baritonist Hamiet Bluiett and altoist Julius Hemphill.

In this incarnation Bluiett and Murray come together with the astonishing Detroit tenor and soprano virtuoso James Carter.

Coming in as a guest star is the veteran New Orleans altoist Kidd Jordan, who was originally instrumental in bringing the quartet together all those years ago.

He plays as if he has been a fixture all through his musical life.

The group’s whirling ensembles bring in the opener Hattie Wall, after Bluiett’s baritone riffs provide the foundation for some mesmeric reed acrobatics, with Carter and Murray brandishing tenor broadsides simultaneously, and Jordan’s higher flourishes sweep between, around and above them.

It is a unique jazz sound from a unique formation which flies in every conceivable direction like the scattering of a flock of piping birds.

Carter’s soprano is prominent through Jordan’s tune The River Niger, until Murray comes howling and squirming in as if Africa was afire with sound, union and hope.

Jordan’s solo alto spits and sucks its solo notes before cessation is all.

Bluiett’s grounding baritone and Carter’s soprano sound out the bold theme of Murray’s title tune.

Anthemic and bursting with echoes of people’s organisation and power, it is as if these four saxophones represent the US millions – a sonic mobilisation is happening within our ears.

The conclusion – Mingus-like in its burlesque and with a pastiche of pseudo-patriotic song tune extracts – perhaps suggests that the election of the US’s first black president does not mean that ties have been anything like cut between Obama and the most reactionary Pentagon and White House powerbrokers of previous administrations, from Hillary Clinton to Robert Gates.

3 thoughts on “United States jazz and politics

  1. Pingback: Louis Armstrong in jazz history | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: Beyoncé’s jazz saxophonist Tia Fuller | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  3. Pingback: John Coltrane rediscovered 1963 recordings | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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