Down the ages, poets, writers of prose, dramatists, painters and sculptors have often made social commentary central to their work in theme idiom and execution; less so musicians, who have often worked under the constraints of patronage – royal patronage down to the Romantic Era and later, patronage by labels driven almost solely by commerce and profit. But with crowd-sourced funding now almost exclusively the norm it has become easier to express one’s truth to power. Still, it hasn’t been an easy ride for socially conscious musicians in capitalistic countries [especially in those successful ones such as the USA and Canada] until quite recently, when Black American musicians broke through – with the support, no doubt by such independent producers such as Charles Mingus [with his short-lived Debut Records], Bernard Stollman [and his fabled ESP Disk] and men like Chuck Nessa [who documented many of the early AACM sessions], in Basel, Switzerland, Werner X. Uehlinger [who founded Hat Hut Records] all of whom helped create an early palimpsest for today‘s independent-minded labels from Tom Burns’ Tapestry, to artistShare and Kris Davis’ Pyrolastic Records.
Meanwhile free-thinking composers and musicians have continued to swim against the rising tide of vitriolic political polarisation precipitated by large-scale immigration of people fleeing war and the devastation of resultant poverty, authoritarian and repressive regimes. Felipe Salles, a Brasilian-born saxophonist and composer, probably no stranger to repressive military regimes of his late home country [Brasil], has found himself in the firestorm of right-wing politics of the USA. Not content to be quiet Mr Salles has spent his last three artistic grants creating musical art that has railed against the tragedy that has beset the DREAMers, a [no longer hidden] generation created by the inefficiencies of the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals [DACA] Program. Mr Salles’ elegant musical onslaught on themes related to DREAMers began with The Lullaby Project , followed by The New Immigrant Experience . The powerful albums were complemented by multimedia campaigns on social media.
The third release in this cycle of albums based on the themes related to the DREAMers experience – Home is Here – closes the circle [as the title itself suggests] and is an artistic response to the body politic of the USA’s thinking on immigrants and the Human Rights issues raised by [that country’s] right-wing responses [to immigration]. The earlier albums in this trilogy have used other media to increase the effect of the musical themes on audiences. Home is Here is a lot more subtle, despite the forthright nature of the narratives of each of the songs in the album’s cycle. Listeners hip to the issues relating to DREAMers will find that there’s nowhere to hide. There’s power not only in the compositions, but also in Mr Salles’ conducting. It’s like standing in the middle of Times Square in your underpants, megaphone in hand. But does the wide-open-spaces lusciousness of big band sound flatten the edges, soften the harshness of the themes and narratives? Possibly. But in the tumultuous nature of this theme and its narratives you actually do want a bit of tussle. Mr Salles and the performers do play the music in increasing exponentially the power [of the theme and narratives] enough to make the performance by Mr Salles and these musicians more than an experience, making them powerful advocates.
Mr Salles doesn’t waste any time with musical small talk. From the opening number – Re-Invention – itself he seems to know what kind of sound he is looking for; a sound that is bright and punchy, rhythms that are crisp, and projection of the themes and related issues that is sharp-edged, almost metallic. He also seems to know how to get there quickly; with minimal instructions [which we don’t see as this is audio-only that we experience. He also lets the ensemble play; express themselves without interrupting [especially when the soloists have their say and the list of stellar soloists is long and illustrious]. Legato, eloquent and bright is what he seems to instruct throughout, and, as a result, we experience the sound that is ‘switched on’ with ardour, and weighty. Polymorphous, featuring Jacques Schwarz-Bart is a fine example of this – with very narrow vibrato on each note, yet effective in every way. Meanwhile Wanderlust with Nadje Noodhuis is both marcato and melodious full of sweet spots and clarity. And World Citizen, with the uncommon genius of Yosvany Terry on alto saxophone and shekere, is thorny and fascinating at every turn.
Overall, we have a recording steeped in the density of profound themes. But the sound is luscious and clean, scored with appropriate gaps between high and low notes and middle notes and so much rhythmic trickery even in the notes that aren’t even played. Most of all it is fascinating to listen to these musicians work on pieces ignited by thorny issues. Everything is executed with great style. The playing is faultless throughout, delivered with real ardour and perfection. The brass section plays with a certain swagger, cleanly articulated with tonnes of accents. Above all, this music has an ‘Americanness’ of sound in an almost Coplandesque-symphonic sort of way. Indeed, the music of Home is Here, with its luxurious and refined sound takes you to a place in history where music has never gone before. Listened to in sequence with the other two albums with this theme, this album is a marvellously thrilling trip that is worth its weight in gold.
Felipe Salles IE feat. Yosvany Terry: World Citizen
Music – 1: Re-Invention; 2: Meridian; 3: Polymorphous; 4: Wanderlust; 5: Two Worlds Together; 6: World Citizen; 7: The Promise of Happiness; 8: Storytelling.
Musicians – Interconnections Ensemble – Felipe Salles: compositions, conductor and soprano saxophone [solo on 7]; Saxophones/Woodwinds – Jonathan Bell: alto and soprano saxophones, flute and piccolo [solo on 2]; John Mastroiani: alto and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet; Mike Caudill: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and clarinet; Carl Clements: tenor and soprano saxophones, flute and alto flute; Trumpets/Flugelhorns – Don Clough: lead trumpet [1, 3, 4, 6, 7] and 2nd trumpet [2, 5, 8]; Jeff Holmes: lead trumpet [2, 5, 8], 2nd trumpet [1, 3] and 3rd trumpet [4, 6, 7]; Bill Fanning: 3rd trumpet 1 – 3, 5]; Jerry Sabatini: 4th trumpet [solo on 1]. Trombones – Clayton DeWalt: [solo – 5]; Randy Pingrey and Bob Pilkington. Angel Subero: bass trombone [solo on 8]; Rhythm – Kevin Drudecki: guitar [solo 4]; Luke Glavinovits: vibraphone [solo 5, 8]; Nando Michelin: piano [solo 4; Keala Kaumeheiwa: contrabass [solo 2]; Bertram Lehmann: drums and percussion [solo 1]. Special Guests – Melissa Aldana: tenor saxophone ; Paquito D’Rivera: alto saxophone and clarinet ; Magos Herrera: voice ; Nadje Noordhuis: flugelhorn ; Chico Pinheiro: guitar ; Sofia Rei: voice ; Jacques Schwartz-Bart: tenor saxophone ; Yosvany Terry: alto saxophone and shekere ;
Released – 2023
Label – Tapestry [76032 – 2]
Runtime – 1:13:52
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