Among the highlights of my international music trading in recent years has been a set of concerts from Europe in which William Parker and company performed the bassist/composer's stunning work "The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield."
In my D.C. days, Jerry Washington, host of WPFW'S THE BAMA HOUR, used to have a recurring segment of his show called the "inner message in the music," a segment in which
listeners were challenged to identify the links joining the several, some times disparate, selections Jerry played.Parker has been up to something a bit different.
Musicians often talk about trying to get inside a piece, and it has long been clear to me that musicians who played outside were often those best suited to find that interiority. William Parker writes that "every song written or improvised has an inside song which lives in the shadows, in-between the sounds and silences and behind the words, pulsating, waiting to be reborn as a new song."
That's an apt description for what we hear in these concerts exploring the music of Curtis Mayfield. It reminds me of Aretha's brilliant reworkings of the songs Mayfield contributed to the sound track of the movie Sparkle. Vocalist Leena Conquest does much the same within Parker's recompositions of the Mayfield catalogue.
Further, Amiri Baraka (who previously released a collection of recordings titled New Song) finds new words in the corners of the lyrics Mayfield wrote and Conquest sings.
Until recently, few in the U.S. had heard any of this. Now, though, a two disk compilation of the concerts has been released on the AUM FIDELITY label. Individual tracks are drawn from concerts in Italy, France and the United States, and joining Parker's group (which includes Hamid Drake and Dave Burrell ) is the New Life Tabernacle Generation of Praise Choir. Curtis Mayfield, author of "We the People Who Are Darker than Blue," was always a poet, as much on the guitar as in his lyrics, and the mashup between him and Baraka is not to be missed.
Now that these concerts are available to the general public, I can only hope that they will find the audience they so deserve. This is one of the finest workings of jazz and poetry you will hear.
"I Plan to Stay a Believer." A good resolve for 2011.