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Jerome Jennings: Solidarity

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Jerome Jennings: Solidarity
Photograph courtesy of the artist

Jazz, the songful voice of Black America, springs from hope eternal. The music is born of the Blues and so also springs from despair; but hope is always the ultimate endgame. When it swings an ineffable magic ensues which is why there is no definition for Jazz – never has been. It’s just the glorious sound of Black Americans in the moment. And there are saxophonists, trumpeters, trombonists and tuba players…and several tribes of brass and winds players; there are pianists and bassists and guitarists and composers and big band leaders. These men and women are too many to name, but we know who they are. All have made Jazz what it is today.

Not when a drummer is singing and swinging a song of Jazz something infinitely important is happening. He is laying the foundation of everything that makes Jazz uniquely the Black American’s music. It should never be lost on anyone that the drums – the drum set, as it has come to be called – that without the most famous of all drummers, Warren “Baby” Dodds, Jazz drumming – the very instrument that is played today might never have been – at least not when it came and paved the way for every other drummer after Baby Dodds. His performances on what was William Ludwig’s contraption became the gold standard inspired generations.

I am reminded of this especially when I hear a great drummer play magnificent Jazz. Jerome Jennings is one such drummer and his brilliant recording Solidarity does this to me, as it ought to do for you too. Its repertoire is filled with song – joyful Jazz song and hurtful intimations of the new Blues – and it is like watching a beautiful story being told in music; a spectacular mural unfolding before your eyes – not just a sonic mural, I might add, but a cinematic visual one too. Mr Jennings is just that kind of profoundly gifted individuals who makes it all happen.

It leaps into action like a gazelle frolicking in the wind with “Be-Bop”. It weeps with elemental hurt on “Recy’s Lament” It swings joyfully and with precocious abandon on “Three Muses”. But I believe that being a Jazz recording – a recorded artistic statement by a proudly Black drummer – it also roars and thunders with righteous indignation. There are three parts to this anger: “Solidarity” which is a communal lament, “Heart” where the cry of hurt and love is taken to a new level of rolling thunder. This culminates in “Convo with Senator Flowers”, an explosive venting of rage against the elemental sore of racism. But none of this is a destructive sound; rather it is a passionate cry to be heard before we all perish in the animal that the white soul seems to have become.

With a title such as Solidarity Mr Jennings leaves no room for doubt about how he feels and how we should all feel about the kind of injustice that is being perpetrated on Black people – both men and especially women – who have been enslaved, continue to be treated worse than animals; whose music has been stolen from them and profited from. [Remember also Warren Smith’s own cry, Cats Are Stealin’ My Shit?] No one has given more Black men and women for nothing in return.

Enjoy also the joy that Mr Jennings shares with his magnificent musical cohort – percussionist Carlos Maldonado, pianist Zaccai Curtis, bassists Christian McBride and Endea Evans, trumpeter Josh Evans, saxophonists Stacy Dillard and Tia Fuller, trombonist Andrae Murchison, vocalist Camille Thurman and percussionist A.J. Jennings. But behind the anger and hopelessness there has always been forgiveness hope; to experience what it’s like to express all of those emotions listen to the plaintive cry “Pay No Mind”. And if the beautifully evocative performance of the ensemble – led by the bassists championed along, of course, by Mr Jennings’ quiet persuasion – of “You Are Never Far Away From Me” does not make you cry then, sadly, just like the rusted Tin Woodman from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz you have no heart.

Track list – 1: Be-Bop; 2: Recy’s Lament; 3: Marielle [For Marielle Franco]; 4: Solidarity; 5: I Love Your Smile; 6: The Theory of Difference; 7: Heart; 8: Three Muses; 9: Pay It No Mind; 10: Convo with Senator Flowers; 11: You Are Never Far Away from Me

Personnel – Jerome Jennings: drums and percussion [5]; Carlos Maldonado: congas [3]; Zaccai Curtis: piano; Christian McBride: contrabass [on the left channel on 11]; Endea Owens: contrabass [2, and on the right channel on 11]; Josh Evans: trumpet [5]; Stacy Dillard: tenor saxophone [6, 9]; Tia Fuller: soprano saxophone [3], flute and alto saxophone [5] and flute [9]; Camille Thurman: vocals [5] and tenor saxophone [9]; A.J. Jennings: additional percussion [5]

Released – 2019
Label – IOLA Records [ORJ2]
Runtime – 1:01:24

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