Radio 13 is fortunate to have writers with experience of music within a broader context. Occasionally we will be publishing opinion pieces pertinent to our writers, the views below therefore are personal to the writer. This week John Fenton our jazz writer looks at music that has arisen out of the Afro Futurist Liberation Movement.
Over recent months, a number of edgy political albums have come to my attention. These albums patrol the margins like nemeses; telling truth to power and doing so unapologetically. In perilous times it is essential that music is fearless, and fearless music will often offend. That is a function of the creative arts; or as Banksy put it, ‘art, should disturb the complacent and comfort the disturbed’. This music achieves that.
Irreversible Entanglements describe themselves as a liberation oriented free-jazz collective and when confronting racial injustice, they do so forcefully. The bands searing lyrics are by black-activist poet Camae Ayewa, and as the band screams through their mouthpieces, pluck hard on the strings and pummel the drums, they proclaim their truth. Black lives matter and injustice must be confronted.
The effect is jolting and it forces us to take stock. We wonder if we are part of the problem and we reflect. This is music that stays with you and weeks later your brain is feverish with awkward questions. From the black neighbourhoods comes the question.
Who sent you, what did they tell you, roaming through my neighbourhood, coming to my home, with your finger on the trigger, who sent you?
Irreversible Entanglements have two albums out and both are required listening. The poet Camae Ayewa also records under her stage name Moor Mother. She is also a member of the Black Quantum Futurist Collective.
Trumpeter Jamie Branch is another free jazz sensation and she is garnering attention from Jazz critics everywhere. I fell under her spell when I first heard her Fly or Die albums. Both are a testament to free-spirited improvised music. In spite of Branch receiving a formal musical education, hers is not elitist music, the sort that might be cooked up in the halls of academia. This is so street that it slaps you about the ears and the message claws its way into your soul. This is political music and as with the above albums, it makes no apologies, and the "Prayer for AmeriKKKa" track especially.
This is a warning honey, what follows is deportation, back to El Salvador. What follows is rape, this is a prayer for you AmeriKKKa
All of the above albums are out on International Anthem, a Chicago based label and a media outlet devoted to advancing the modern avant-garde and progressive black voices.
The next album is a little older, Ambrose Akinmusire’s Americanah. It is out on the classic Blue Note label and as with the above albums, it deals with issues of race, immigration and American shortcomings. Akinmusire is a popular Jazz trumpeter and while this album is closer to the mainstream, the poems are no less biting. The album draws on various genres; a classical string quartet - straight-ahead Jazz - hip-hop.
Improvised music is by definition progressive, and much of the music reviewed here arises out of the Afro Futurist Liberation Movement. Jazz has always been activist and it should be. It came out of slavery and with each leap forward it questioned the status quo. Liberation Jazz began way back in Conga Square, but as it evolved it was constantly appropriated by popular music (Elvis). Any attempt to tame it will be met by those who reclaim it, and in 2020, free-Jazz with spoken word is expressing a wave of righteous anger. The music is of inequality and Black Lives Matter, and it has no intention of speaking softly.
I strongly recommend Fly or Die: "Bird Dogs of Paradise" or "Who Sent You" as the start point for this journey. Be warned, you may not emerge unscathed.
Irreversible Entanglements: Camae Ayewa (text & voice), Keir Neuringer (saxophone, percussion), Aquiles Navarro (trumpet, percussion), Luke Stewart (double bass, percussion), Tcheser Holmes (drums, congas) on International Anthem label
Fly or Die: Dog Birds of Paradise: Jamie Branch (trumpet, voice, synths, sneaker squeaks, bells & whistles), Lester St Louis (cello, percussion) Jason Ajemian (double bass, percussion, vocals) Chad Taylor (drums, mbira, xylophone) - with guests, Ben LaMar Gay, Marvin Tate (vocals), Matt Schneider (12 string), Dan Bitney (percussion, synthesiser) Scott McNiece (egg) on International Anthem label
Americanah: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet, keys, whistle, words) Kool A D (vocals), Mivos Quartet (strings), Sam Harris (piano & keys) - guests, Michael Aarlberg (keys), LmBRJCK_T (vocals), Walter Smith 111 (tenor sax, EFX) on Blue Note label.