11 jazz songs that spoke the truth to power in 2019: NPR



Spencer Ostrander / Courtesy the artist

Kassa overall

Spencer Ostrander / Courtesy the artist

Jazz musicians have always expressed their opinion in the face of injustice: think of Louis Armstrong and Charles Mingus expressing two courageous responses to Little Rock’s struggle for school integration, or the lightning power Billie Holiday brought to “Strange Fruit” (and the price she paid).

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, we’re in the middle of an interesting time, and artists from all over jazz and the broader spectrum of improvised music have responded in a similar way, with music. which addresses multiple issues with a range of tactics. What unites the stylistically varied tracks below, all taken from beautiful albums, is the feeling of punching up, outrage or sadness. These musicians may end up preaching to the choir, but their purpose is high and true, and their motives sincere.

The Art Ensemble of Chicago feat. Moor Mother

“We are on the edge”

As the flagship of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM), the Art Ensemble of Chicago has always embodied radical self-determination, as well as an unwavering commitment to what it calls “Great Black Music -” Ancient to the Future ”. On the title track of his 50th anniversary double album, this engagement takes shape not only in the chamber bands of saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell and trumpeter Hugh Ragin, but also in the pronounced and provocative verses of Moor Mother – which invokes a world of black struggle even as it hides in the margins. “We are on the brink,” she growls, and her conviction is clear when she completes the sentence: “… of victory.” –Nate chinen


Terri Lyne Carrington and social sciences

“The bells (ringing loudly)”

Patience game, Terri Lyne Carrington’s new double album Social Science, is a direct response to the American socio-political climate, exploring race, gender, class, sexuality and faith across a range of musical genres. “Bells (Ring Loudly)”, a track featuring the words of Malcolm Jamal Warner, refers to church bells – meaning mindless lives lost due to gun violence. Warner’s velvety tone, coupled with poignant lyrics (“Blue lives splatter red on canvass of brown skin”) make this song one of the most sobering on the album. –Keanna faircloth

Jaimie branch

“prayer for amerikkka pt. 1 & 2”

On the day of the 2018 U.S. midterm election, trumpeter Jaimie Branch was on stage in Paris as her band played to a slow, twisted blues. It was on this vamp that she put down her trumpet and embarked on a rant – the first iteration of what would become “Prayer for Amerikkka”, which appears on her latest album, fly or die ii: songs of birds of paradise. “We have a bunch of wide-eyed racists,” she chants in part one; the deep, whispering echo of additional voices, African-American musicians Ben LaMar Gay and Marvin Tate, amplifies as the song unfolds. In part two, the rapid strumming of a 12-string guitar, exhilarating drums and a Mexican trumpet fanfare herald the story of a 19-year-old Salvadoran woman who applied for and was then denied asylum. that she was detained in Texas for three years. As Branch writes in his liner notes: “I always felt that music was a reflection of the times, a trail of fire in the sky. –Alex Ariff

Dave Douglas and ENGAGE

“Sanctuary cities”

The enthusiasm for the 2018 midterm elections generated a sense of hope for Dave Douglas, trumpeter, composer and conductor who says his latest project, TO HIRE, “is a collection of compositions dedicated to positive action.” Subscription fees and CD sales of one of the songs, “Sanctuary Cities”, directly support RAICES Texas, a non-profit agency that promotes justice by providing legal services to underserved immigrant children, families and refugees. Douglas says, “Writing and performing these pieces reminds me not to get bogged down in negativity, to stay positive and engaged through music on a daily basis. “-Suraya mohamed

Clean food

Mark dresser seven

“Let them eat paper napkins”

Do you remember the incident with the paper towel? Two years ago, in Puerto Rico, during the severe consequences of Hurricane Maria? There may have been many news cycles and almost as many scandals there are, but bassist and songwriter Mark Dresser hasn’t forgotten the raw anger it sparked. On his excellent It’s nothing but a cyber blow and you, he devotes a composition to the subject, enjoying an avant-garde septet with Nicole Mitchell on flute, Marty Ehrlich on clarinet, Keir Gogwilt on violin and Michael Dessen on trombone. In the title of Dresser, there is a retort not only to a so-called, but not, chief comforter, but also to endemic income inequality, via a nod to Marie-Antoinette. –Nate chinen

Jerome Jennings

“Convo with Senator Flowers”

On his new album, Solidarity, Jerome Jennings, drummer, composer and resident conductor of the Juilliard Jazz Orchestra, focuses on a number of social and political issues, including gun control. “Conversation with Senator Flowers” is a drum solo about the passionate remarks of Arkansas State Senator Stephanie Flowers during debate on a “stand up” bill earlier this year. Jennings follows the crescendo of Flowers’ furious cadences, punctuating her pain as she says, “I feared for my son’s life.” –Monifa Brown

Afrasia Productions

Carmen lundy

“Flowers and candles”

Message music – that’s what jazz music does best. And Carmen Lundy sends a deep one in “Fleurs et bougies”, a song about the Bataclan massacre in Paris several years ago, reminding us that when flowers are laid and candles lit, it is the children who stay with them. the weight to be supported; those who clean the petals blown away by the wind; left to blow out the candles representing each soul tragically carried away, as they grow and navigate the world we leave to them. –Nicole sweeney


Brad Mehldau

“The prophet is a fool”

Nowadays, it seems like the din is everywhere. At the center of his magnificent album Find Gabriel, keyboardist and composer Brad Mehldau recreates this chaos and offers lucid guidance through it. The music evokes the roar of revolting crowds with raucous horns, synth noises, pugnacious rhythms and Mehldau’s own streamlined races. These troubles are punctuated by dialogues between a frightened child (though unidentified, likely the pianist’s own daughter, Ruby) and the parent who seeks to protect her from the gory reality, but helps her figure it out. A direct response to gun violence and conflict on the southern border, Mehldau’s Jeremiah is ruthless and inspiring. –Anne Powers

Sony masterpieces

Camila Meza and Nectar Orchestra / Julia Hülsmann Quartet

“This is not America”

The original song was born out of an inspired collaboration between David Bowie and the band Pat Metheny, for the 1985 spy drama The falcon and the snowman. Its biting subtext – indignant disbelief in the betrayal of our nation’s values ​​- has inspired sharp cover versions, including two this year. German pianist Julia Hülsmann offers a view from the outside, entrusting the raw emotion to tenor saxophonist Uli Kempendorff. Chilean singer-songwriter Camila Meza has lyrics to work with and gives them any appropriate feeling. I saw her perform the song at the Newport Jazz Festival the day after the horrific mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, and her performance made many eyes cry – culminating in a cathartic, pleading guitar solo. –Nate chinen


Kassa overall

“Prison and pharmaceuticals”

A keen drummer and producer well aware of the tradition of dissent in jazz history, Kassa Overall also offers attentive commentary as MC on his debut album, Go get some ice cream and listen to some jazz. “Prison and Pharmaceuticals” highlights some of the insidious ways in which capitalism can corrupt a society; Is it just a coincidence that the United States has the largest prison population of any country in the world and also ranks number one in drug abuse? –Simon rentner


Matana roberts

“All beautiful things”

Multidisciplinary visionary Matana Roberts’ sonic panoramic quilt explores history, spirituality, folklore and her ancestral African-American roots. His 21st century liberation music spawned an ambitious 12-album series, the latest being Coin Coin Chapter Four: Memphis. Roberts confronts the nightmarish rituals of the Ku Klux Klan on the heart-wrenching “All Things Beautiful,” which opens with a raucous cacophony of bluesy horns unfolding its heart-wrenching and time-consuming tale. –Monifa Brown

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