Paul Burgett, narration; John Blake, violin; Beth Dzwil, viola; Ron Lipscomb, cello; Tyrone Brown, bass; Craig McIver, drums; Bill Meek Jr., piano; Germaine Ingram, narration, tap & vocal.
"North Star" / "Independence Day" / "American Dilemma" / "The Murderous Traffic" / "Too Much Religion, Too Little Humanity" / "Hope" / "The Pass - Freedom Dance" / "Self-Made Men" / "The Last Time I Saw Lincoln" / "The Race Problem" / "A Sky with More Stars"
"Great speeches express their own music. Bassist Tyrone Brown and violinist John Blake evoke the alchemy between word and tone here in their 11-part Suite for Frederick Douglass.
Presented here are selections from Douglass' speeches. In one, for example, given to an Independence Day gathering of ladies in 1852 in Rochester, N.Y., Douglass attacked the hypocrisy of celebrating freedom when so many were not free.
Brown and Blake, both lions of the Philly jazz scene, compose music that wraps around the words or plays between speeches, all in service to a quaint, 19th-century vibe. It's full of gentle, two-chord vamps, soft rhythms from drummer Craig McIver, the liquid chords of pianist Bill Meek Jr., and...often sweet lines from a string trio.
Released during Black History Month, the CD at first projects an earnest quality...But one can appreciate the musicality of Douglass' words, read here by Paul Burgett, University Vice president of the University of Rochester.
By the end, it's almost as if Douglass' voice becomes a soloist, much like Coltrane's or Rollins', wielding words with the power of the blues."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
"I was happy to see (Douglass) being paid tribute by way of Jazz improvisation. This is a beautiful production, with (John) Blake again leading the way, with beautiful playing by Brown and by the strings. The melding of narration and Jazz...the voice of a forceful man, restraining his passions for greater effect. I was reminded, in an odd way, of the disc Langston Hughes made with Mingus and Red Allen...his well-mannered voice floating about the more vigorous music...this seems to me the soundtrack for a spectacularly convincing stage presentation...I applaud the effort here: Douglass’ words continue to move me, and the Jazz is fine on its own."
- Cadence Magazine
"The wisdom of a noble Rochesterian (and giant of 19th century America) is celebrated in an engrossing new CD, A Sky with More Stars - Suite for Frederick Douglass.
The disc celebrates the great abolitionist by combining interpretive new music by a first-rate jazz ensemble with Douglass' writings, as preserved in the rare books archives of the University of Rochester. Some 17 minutes of Douglass' words are powerfully read on the 50-minute disc by the deep, honey-laced voice of Paul Burgett, the UR vice president.
The music has been created by Philadelphia-based bassist/composer Tyrone Brown, a long-time veteran of the Max Roach Quartet. Although it is solid jazz, with strong rhythms and improvisation, the suite is played by Brown's string chamber ensemble on bass, drums, piano, violin, viola and cello. The music seems as modern as today and as classically historic as 19th century American roots music. (That's appropriate. Both Douglass and his wife played violins.)
The idea came from Richard Peck, director of the UR rare books archive. He thought of Douglass' autobiographies, but was convinced to use his speeches.
In addition to excellent music, the listeners will hear snippets of Douglass on the creation of his abolitionist newspaper in Rochester, a potent statement on the hypocrisy of America on Independence Day, a criticism of religion that refuses to take a stand against slavery, a remembrance of the last time he saw Abraham Lincoln, and much more.
There's also the reading of a poignant letter in the form of a "pass" to help a young slave girl find freedom through a Rochester stop on the Underground Railroad. Philadelphia dancer Germaine Ingram reads the brief letter and adds a touching bit of tap dancing to the segment.
The Douglass suite marks the second collaboration between Brown and the UR rare books archive. Brown previously paid tribute to the works of writer John A. Williams, whose works are also part of the archives.
The Douglass suite - combining historic words with evocative music - is also in a great musical tradition. Consider Aaron Copland's Lincoln Portrait, as well as Oliver Nelson's The Kennedy Dream, a powerful jazz suite blending Nelson's music with excerpts from famous JFK speeches..."
- Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
"The speeches and writings of the great abolitionist (and Rochester resident) Frederick Douglass may sound like an unlikely theme for a jazz CD. But 'A Sky With More Stars' is an eloquent album filled with music as stirring as the words they augment. The tasteful readings, perfectly executed by Paul Burgett, vice president of the University of Rochester, are particularly well chosen. They include excerpts of Douglass' landmark July 5,1852 speech, 'What To The Slave Is The Fourth Of July?' and 'The Last Time I Saw Lincoln,' an account of the meetings between the two giants. The music, composed by Tyrone Brown and John Blake, is unceasingly engaging. Brown, a bassist who played with Max Roach, leads the excellent ensemble in a suite of chamber jazz nicely evocative of the narratives. Blake, an excellent violinist who is out front on many cuts, reminds us that Douglass was himself an amateur violinist. The album, complete with illuminating notes by Jeffrey Tucker, was produced by Richard Peek, director of the Rare Books Department at the UR library, and executive produced by local jazz aficionado Hal Schuler."
- Rochester City Newspaper
Bassist / composer TYRONE BROWN's six-movement homage to writer John A. Williams features his string ensemble, Bobby Zankel on alto saxophone, guitarist Adam Williams, drummer Craig McIver and the poet himself, reciting readings from his National Book Award-winning "Safari West."
Personnel: Bobby Zankel, alto sax; Melissa Ortega Locati, violin; Beth Dzwil, viola; Nina Cottman, viola; Ron Lipscomb, cello; Adam Williams, guitar; Tyrone Brown, bass; Craig McIver, drums.
"The Man Who Cried I Am" / "This Is My Country Too" / "Captain Blackman" / "Clifford's Blues" / "Night Song" / Readings from "Safari West"
What the critics say:
"Often there is a direct exchange of concepts between black writers and jazz. Some of the novels include references to the power of the music, and the music receives inspiration from the written word, such as that by James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison and Langston Hughes...
However, a major black writer who has been overlooked too long is Richard A. Williams, who wrote daily in numerous forms, including poetry, essays, novels, plays and biographies...a musician who discovered and received inspiration from Williams is Tyrone Brown, Philadelphia bassist extraordinaire who has performed with a who’s who of jazz musicians, including Max Roach, Odean Pope, Dave Burrell and and Pat Martino, among others. Turning due attention to Williams’ vast body of works over thirty-plus years, Brown has compressed the feeling and themes of Williams’ writings into a six-movement suite.
Suite For John A. Williams covers musically four of Williams’ novels; in cooperation with the University of Rochester, Brown was able to include a recoring of Williams reading from his book of poetry, Safari West, as his composition colors and animates the reading.
One of Brown’s primary interests has always been in string arrangements...So, it’s not surprising that much of the musical expression of Williams’ work includes string arrangements, specifically employing most of the musicians from Song Of The Sun. 'The Man Who Cried I Am,' Williams’ story of a cancer-afflicted black American abroad who learns of a plan of genocide (his cancer thus symbolizing the corruption he encounters) surprisingly receives gentle treatment from Brown, as the string quartet plays a bolero-like theme allowing for light improvisation by also saxophonist Bobby Zankel and violinist Melissa Ortega Locati. On the other hand, 'This Is My Country Too' (2nd Movement), the account of Williams’ road trip across 'white America' in a new car (a significant target for racial-profiling law enforcement authorities), features Brown in a blues-drenched initial solo that sets up a searing solo by Zankel, and then Adam Williams’ understated guitar solo, solidly in the groove. 'Captain Blackman' (the 3rd Movement), Williams’ chronicle of black military experiences conceived by a wounded soldier in Vietnam (a subject inadequately documented, even though the movie Glory made some amends), receives musical depiction through Zankel’s bop-based solo over the changing rhythms created by Brown and drummer Craig McIver without the elaboration of strings or chorded instruments. And 'Clifford’s Blues,' which covers the almost entirely overlooked experiences of black people in Nazi Germany receives melancholy, blues-drenched treatment as a melody stated by Zankel over strings, mournful and, like the blues, still resolute in the face of adversity. Then 'Night Song' (5th Movement,) Williams’ description of the life of a jazz musician, with emphasis upon Charlie Parker’s genius and self-destructive behavior, as part of Brown’s imagination, receives not the bop lines that one would expect, but rather a breezy, melodic treatment by Zankel over its descending chords, accompanied by Williams.
The final movement, and the one that combines word and music, is Williams’ readings from Safari West, the 1998 winner of the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation...While Williams reads his own words, Brown’s group provides equally poetic accompaniment of legato strings over Brown’s animating vamp and McIver’s brushed textures, until Williams stops reading at times, allowing Zankel to expand upon the theme with urgent eloquence, a complement to Williams.
Tyrone Brown’s Suite For John A. Williams is one of those uncommon recordings that creates a synthesis between two art forms, the music illuminating the literature and the literature giving rise to the music. The CD is an original and one that rewards listeners who study or in general appreciate the sometimes documented inter-relationship between jazz and literature."
dedication to novelist/poet John A.Williams, winner of the National Book
Award for his 1998 collection of poems Safari West (read from here by the
author himself). Driven by Craig McIver's tight drumming, bassist Brown
leads the ensemble through a set of bluesy, atmospheric evocations inspired
by Williams' writing...
Philly mainstay Bobby Zankel's acerbic alto sax does cut a rangy
swathe through the neat string quartet backdrop. Buoyed by Adam Williams'
swampy guitar work, Zankel also makes a strong impression in blues mode on
'This is My Country Too,' continuing his Jackie McLean-like presence on
the stop-time theme of the uptempo 'Captain Blackman.' 'Clifford's Blues,'
named after one of the author's Jazz-influenced (not Clifford Brown)
novels, features a soaring solo from Zankel, while 'Night Song' spotlights
the guitarist's nimble lines.
...overall it comes up a winner on
the strength of its individual soloists, and Brown's haunting writing for the
"John A. Williams' books have often incorporated the fabric of jazz to make cogent and compelling points about critical issues. Tyrone Brown has assembled an unusual configuration to pay tribute to the author...
The six-part suite's sections are named after pivotal Williams volumes; the tune 'The Man Who Cried I Am,' named after the author's popular book, leads off the CD, and the climactic 'Readings From Safari West' demonstrates the author's ability to smoothly fit into a musical setting. 'Night Song' and 'Captain Blackman' have catchy melodies and exciting playing..."
"This gem of a jazz suite is very...sincere, so solid and crystal-simple in its construction, it's tempting to call it 'perfect'
...The dry, rustling voice of poet/novelist John A. Williams breezes in for the fifteen-minute final movement of the suite, nestling gently and sweetly into the memory...A bittersweet passacaglia figure for string quartet loops under Williams' words, alternating with Brown's warm-breeze solos.
A more resonant and lovely setting for the spoken word has seldom been laid down.
The rest of the suite, written by Brown for pianoless quartet, runs through a series of sharply-etched moods with brevity, clarity and deep feeling...the arrangements are kept simple and satisfying, making this session not so much a fussed-over double-quartet project as some really sweet jazz being played in the sonic equivalent of rain."
- Signal to Noise
"Brown has no little appreciation of the
qualities inherent in other instruments in the string family, and his
writing for the string quartet heard here, with two violas instead of the
usual two violins, has the air of someone who knows also how to provide
springboards for improvisation. Bobby Zankel and Adam Williams might well
have thought the same, for there's evidence of it in abundance here, and
Zankel in particular might well have turned in his best performances on
...This is a far more integrated date than many similar efforts
in the past. Here there is no showcasing of a virtuoso soloist with the
strings merely working in accompaniment. Instead the soloists seem to have
a knack for not losing sight of the writing over which they're
projecting--at the same time as they do a whole lot more than merely
embellish the lines of the strings.
...simply oozes class..."
- All About Jazz.com
"...gentle...blues-drenched...searing...understated...solidly in the groove...melancholy...mournful...resolute...breezy, melodic...poetic...
Tyrone Brown's 'Suite for John A. Williams' is one of those uncommon recordings that creates a synthesis between two art forms, the music illuminating the literature and the literature giving rise to the music. The CD is an original and one that rewards listeners who study or in general appreciate the sometimes documented inter-relationship between jazz and literature."
- Jazz Improv Magazine
"Bassist Tyrone Brown, who has played with drummer Max Roach and Philly saxophonist Odean Pope, has been experimenting with strings in recent years, and this set continues the trend in cool directions.
Brown's tribute to author John A. Williams - whose best-known novel, 'The Man Who Cried I Am,' describes a plan to arrest black leaders amid a national emergency - is a great, madcap swing through jazz, written in six movements. It's also a good place to hear some vital Philly players.
Bobby Zankel's ardent alto is a constant presence. So are Craig McIver's propulsive drums and Brown's bass, which kicks off the Second Movement with mournful aplomb.
Brown has fashioned five movements of taut music that swings big and often feeds off the blues. The Sixth features strings playing as Williams reads from his poetry book, Safari West. It's both odd and mystical."
- Philadelphia Inquirer
"Tyrone Brown is featured here alongside Bobby Zankel on alto sax and Adam Williams on guitar in the same string section as his other release Between Midnight and Dawn released this year by Dreambox Media. This is a most productive year for Tyrone Brown.
This particular disc is in dedication to writer James A. Williams...,compared as the Dumas of modern times.
Zankel adds a fresh new sound and voice to the equation. Zankel is most fluent within the harmonic vocabulary of bebop. It is very evident that Zankel has a deep appreciation for Charlie Parker. Brown, once again, has another showcase album for his warm bass tone. It shines here as if a rock was melting in the rays of a morning sun.
This album is for anyone who digs strings within the jazz idiom intermixed with some traditional sounding instrumentalists."
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