CD review

Lynne Arriale Trio – “Chimes of Freedom”

Lynne Arriale Trio – Chimes of Freedom
(Challenge Records – CR 73494. CD Review by Jane Mann)

This is American composer/pianist Lynne Arriale’s 15th album as leader. It was recorded in Mechelen, Belgium and New York, USA in 2019, as a response to the current troubled political climate in the USA.

Arriale explains,

“The album expresses my wish for an America that offers hope, not scorn, for immigrants who seek a better life. It also acknowledges the sacrifices of refugees who have risked and even lost their lives trying to reach our borders. And, I want to share my great admiration for those who defend our right to hear the truth at a time when honesty itself is under assault.”

In the informative liner notes, Lawrence K. Abrams writes of the tradition of “song-borne social commentary started by black jazz musicians early in the 20th century”, and continued by the protest singers and other musicians who performed in Montgomery, Alabama, 50 years ago to entertain the Selma marchers, and to which this album belongs. The first eight tunes are actually instrumentals, but then the Lynne Arriale Trio is joined by a singer for the last two numbers.

The album kicks off with a stirring arrangement of Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, the Civil War-era spiritual first made famous by Paul Robeson in the 1920s, and for another generation by Richie Havens at Woodstock in 1969. Arriale’s piano here is strong and sonorous, the left-hand rumbling away like distant thunder, the melody line articulated with great sadness. Jasper Somsen, the Dutch double bass player (and co-producer of this album) adds his austere lines and Enoch Jamal (E.J.) Strickland propels everything along with disquieting drumming, cymbals like crashing waves – the result is a powerful lamentation.

We then plunge into Journey, a bright and optimistic Arriale original with nods towards Summertime, in which she creates space for us to appreciate the acrobatically expressive bass of Somsen and the intense drum work of Strickland. The Dreamers, ostensibly a bright forward-looking melody, is underpinned by some really unsettling drumming and sombre bass playing – the piece is about the 800,000 children awaiting deportation from the US.

The title of the next track 3 Million Steps, refers to the number of steps it takes to walk from Guatemala to the southern US border – the tune pushes on, creating a gentle forward momentum with its pretty, ringing tune and rhythmic swing, deftly supported by the bass and drums.

Hope, with its airy buoyant tune gives us an opportunity to hear Somsen in an elegant solo. The Whole Truth is a straightforward bluesy ensemble piece, and Lady Liberty, a gentle hymn-like ballad, with Arriale at her most lyrical. Arriale writes beautiful complex melodies – I can only imagine song lyricists would leap at the chance to write words to her gorgeous tunes.

The last of the Arriale compositions is Reunion, a cheery Caribbean-tinged piece with a stunning solo from Arriale herself, and a joyous excursion from Strickland using absolutely everything in his kit, in which he manages to suggest a whole carnival procession.

The final two tracks are popular contemporary folk songs which have somehow slipped sideways into the jazz repertoire: Bob Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom written in 1964, the year before the iconic Selma-to-Montgomery march; and Paul Simon’s American Tune of 1973, a response to the Nixon era, and itself a borrowed 17th-century melody.

The trio are joined here by acclaimed Grenadan-American urban folk/jazz singer K. J. Denhert. She sings with great clarity and warmth, and her reading of Chimes of Freedom is calm, sad but not quite despairing, within Arriale’s poignant, almost optimistic arrangement, filled with plangent chords and delicate arpeggios. American Tune, based on a lovely German melody also used by Bach and Liszt, is Simon’s musing on “what went wrong” with an America founded on lofty ideals. Denhert and the trio manage to convey the gentle sadness of the song, but allow pretty glimmerings of hope to seep through – Arriale’s arrangement is lovely and measured, with hymn-like qualities suggested by the original tune, the whole backed by the wonderful drummer and bass player.

Chimes of Freedom is a varied, exquisitely-played collection of pieces by an inventive composer and her sympathetic virtuosic rhythm section. It is a serious “concept album” in a sense, and a worthy successor to her previous album Give Us These Days – a reverie on the transient nature of life. This is music for these strange times – no false hope, plenty of musical beauty and artistry to cheer us, but with a tremendous underlying melancholy.

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