Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We Insist!

Lew Rosenbaum writes:

This is a note I would have written to Strat a year ago, and copied to my sister Greta; or perhaps the other way around. The point on the triangle that was Greta is not available, except in my imagination or to communicate in some way with the ancestors as some are wont to say. My saying this to you in no way attempts to lessen the value of what I am saying, nor am I simply dwelling on a hole in my life, nor am I only saying how glad I am for the many years I had to do what I had to do and the years I have with you as well. Perhaps it's all of the above and more.

It's about a performance that Diana and I saw on the lucky Friday the 13th of February.

Last fall, as I sat contemplating the Symphony Center series ticket offerings and ticking off the many things I'd like to see and would never see in the coming year, and thought of the times Diana and I discussed going to concerts, and agreed that THIS YEAR we would, but that because of our hectic schedules we'd wait to the last minute so that we wouldn't be obliged to go out when we were too tired, and then of course when the time came we WERE too tired or forgot or had scheduled something else and so we COULDN't GO -- this year as I contemplated that multifaceted list of offerings, I told Diana it is time we made time for what we wanted to do rather than just let it go by, and the two of us scraped away the concerts we could do without and came down to five during this season: 3 classical programs and one dance program and the program we heard tonight.

We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite composed by Max Roach in 1960, a piece I had never heard before. I had no reference point to it except that it sounded interesting and I've heard Max Roach before and so we booked that.

First, the performers were superb. Julian Priester on trombone was one of the people who originally recorded the piece. Ron and Clark Bridgewater on Sax and Trumpet were great, Ira Colman on bass had a stunning solo to start one of the five pieces that make up the suite, and the three percussionists talked to each other throughout. Ray Mantilla (75 years old!) on the congas was on the original recording and, in the last section dueled back and forth across the stage with percussionist Nelson Clarke, and holding the whole thing together was drummer Lewis Nash, center back, where Roach would have been playing. He was phenomenal.

The most amazing phenomenon of the evening of phenomena was Dee Dee Bridgewater, who I thought wrung every ounce of emotion possible out of her not always verbal vocal performance -- at time shrieking what needed to be shrieked, and starting, in the first section called Driver Man, with a refrain that she hissed at the audience: "All I got in my mind, the driver man and quittin' time."

The unit played off each other so well, with Bridgewater opening most segments up and closing each segment with repeat refrain[ but always in between, as the musicians played to each other, melding a kind of dance and appreciation with the others that was emotionally exhausting. The lyrics, written by Oscar Brown Jr., were spare and demanding as the music.

The music howls, cajoles, screams in both birth pangs and the slash of the driver's lash, and wails as all good brass sections must. There is also something very sensual/sexual about the way a bass player makes love to his instrument, perhaps because the instrument is so life size that embrace, foreplay and orgasm seem to be happening on stage without any attempt to mask it. And in the long introduction to the one section of the suite Colman did make love to his instrument.

The suite ends with a section titled Tears for Johannesberg -- and as Bridgewater brought all the performers out at the end to receive applause, she closed by saying that there are no more tears necessary for Johannesberg, but we have tears in our own back yard that we have to deal with. If we stand together, we can deal with them. We Insist.

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