Album reviews

‘Black Lives: From Generation to Generation’

Black Lives: From Generation to Generation
(Jammin’Colours. Album review by John Stevenson)

Black Lives: From Generation to Generation is a sprawling tapestry of Black music drawn from African, Caribbean and African-American musicians (full list below), the product of Stefany Calembert’s (partner of jazz bassist Reggie Washington) creative vision.

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The lyrical and improvisational tracks featured on the album come from an astonishing array of artists and genres (including jazz, free improvisation, hip hop, Malian and French Antillean music) framed by the murder of George Floyd in 2020. They represent the anguished cry of Black voices in the face of continued White racism and oppression.

Disc 1 begins with maestro Cheick Tidiane Seck’s arresting sacred Malian rhythms on Sanga Bo, issuing the urgent call for racial unity and referencing the historical struggle of the Mandingo people against colonialism. The disc also features the Mississippi delta bluesiness of alto saxophonist Immanuel Wilkins and guitarist Marvin Sewell on Praying, the stirring Jacques Schwarz-Bart-produced Phenomenon, sung by his wife Stephanie McKay, and the inspiring Anthem for a Better Tomorrow by trumpeter Jeremy Pelt.

Pre-existing Conditions on Disc 2, perhaps the most compelling tune of the entire album, throws the arc lights on elder jazz statesman, Oliver Lake. The 81-year-old alto saxophonist speaks about George Floyd’s health issues put forward by the defence in his murder trial as reasons for his death, against the backdrop of Reggie Washington’s bass playing and DJ Grazzhoppa’s artistry on the decks. ‘Racism is America’s pre-existing condition’, Lake concludes.

Other highlights on Disc 2 include guitarist Jean-Paul Bourelly’s Masters of Mud (Shape Shifting), drummer E.J Strickland’s Language of the Unheard, and the wistful Dreaming of Freedom by saxophonist Jacques Schwarz-Bart. South African Tutu Puoane, the hidden gem of the album, weaves a hypnotic spell with her enthralling vocals on From The Outside In. The understated piano chords of keyboardist Ewout Pierrerioux cushion Puone’s cogent lyrics, as she states her refusal “to be put in boxes”.

As has been noted elsewhere, the music on Black Lives: From Generation to Generation will stand on its own as a powerful artistic document regardless of the prevailing racial conditions.

Indeed, as Calambert observes in the sleeve notes:

“I have witnessed racism all of my life and have often been deeply disturbed by the air of hypocrisy of White people. Even those who are not racist usually feel uncomfortable discussing the issue of racism, which remains a very taboo subject and a social ill we largely deny. As a white person, I wanted to do this project in order to open a dialogue about this worldwide mess. All too often the Black community is left to battle on its own, but all of us must become aware of the daily reality of racism and the injustice and pain it inflicts.”

It can only be hoped that the music on this superb album aids us, in the lyrics of Stephanie McKay’s Higher (invoking the Yoruba orishas Obatala, Yemanja, Elegua) to “go higher and higher” towards our better selves. We will reject racism and hatred once and for all.

ARTISTS: Cheick Tidiane Seck – Immanuel Wilkins – David Gilmore – Marque Gilmore – Sharrif Simmons – Stephanie McKay – Andy Milne – Kokayi – Sonny Troupé – Reggie Washington – Alicia Hall Moran – DJ Grazzhoppa – Adam Falcon – Jeremy Pelt – Grégory Privat – Marcus Strickland – E.J. Strickland – Oliver Lake – Jacques Schwarz-Bart – Gene Lake – Tutu Puoane – Yul – Marvin Sewell – Jean-Paul Bourelly – Terence “Sub Z“ Nicholson

LINK: Tour Dates – including 19 November at Clapham Grand, London

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