There are very few musicians who make the blood scorch the heart and the pulse roar quite like Amina Claudine Myers. She does that with infallible regularity, performance after performance, recording after recording. What a splendid recording Amina Claudine Myers Salutes Bessie Smith was, the same year she recorded Song For Mother E with Pheeroan akLaff. Thirty-six years after those iconic recordings, Myers has continued to advance her illustrious career with Sama Rou – Songs From My Soul. Here, it pays to raise a famous ghost; that of the great Ludwig van Beethoven who once encouraged the living artist of his day with the following words: ‘Don’t only practice your art. But force your way into its secrets, for it and knowledge can raise men to the Divine’. Amina Claudine Myers is the very quintessence of that exhortation. And Sama Rou is that record that makes it so.
It is no coincidence also that Amina Claudine Myers channels the spirits of the ancestors who dwell in the rarefied realm. In her music Paul Robeson and Marion nestle cheek-by-jowl with Igor Stravinsky; even Anton Webern. But Myers is a singular artist and her work who – certainly in Jazz – has created dramatic pianistic innovation in the schematic organization of pitch, rhythm, register, timbre, dynamics, articulation, and melodic contour, further enhancing the sonic splendour of her music with the depth of her glorious contralto. Myers’ setting for the ‘Songs From My Soul’ emphasises her sense of wonderment, humility and devotion. The highly derivative idiom (The Great Negro Spiritual that is) is thoroughly tonal, the tone luxurious and the work cast at a predominantly prayerful slow pace.
The opening medley, ‘Steal Away/Athan (Call to Prayer)/Fatiha (Sura Prayer)’ is especially haunting, with its unhurried and repetitive, whispered echoes of ‘Steal Away’ melting into the adhan called out as if by a muezzin from a minaret. The somber introverted orchestration of Christian and Muslim tradition, far from being contrasting, enters somberly into a lovely, hushed unified spiritual. There is a magnificent glow to every Negro Spiritual in this repertoire and one can only gasp in wonder at the spacious dedication with which Myers brings them to life. Their flashes of drama carry over from one spiritual into the other as she adorns each with a lyrical radiance. ‘My Soul’s Been Anchored In The Lord’ and ‘Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child’ are followed by ‘Go Down Moses’, a seraphically rendered Spiritual that crowns the sequence of truly great music.
I would be remiss if I did not pay homage to the three compositions on this disc by Amina Claudine Myers. Each is an example of majestic melody and dissonant harmony with strong plagal cadence. ‘Crossings’, and ‘Ain’t Nobody Ever Gonna Hear Us?’ are classics of their kind: anthemic pieces fulfilling their declared brief to be an aspiration towards recognition and happiness. ‘Thank You’ to the Lord speaks to the magisterial beauty of another vivid performance by an artist not only emboldened by the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) – New York chapter, but by a singular genius of Black Music.
Track List: Steal Away/Athan (Call to Prayer)/Fatiha (Sura Prayer); Down On Me; Intro: Crossings (Part I, II and III); Ain’t Nobody Ever Gonna Hear Us? Nobody Knows The Trouble I See; My Soul’s Been Anchored In The Lord; Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child; Go Down Moses; Thank You.
Personnel: Amina Claudine Myers: piano and voice; Rene McLean: recitation.
Label: Amina Records
Running time: 1:01:52