amiri baraka

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AMIRI BARAKA/LE ROI JONES: A black critic in the black arts

AMIRI BARAKA/LE ROI JONES: A black critic in the black arts

Nobody talks about Amiri Baraka these days, despite the fact he’s still alive*, still writing and still irritating the hell out of people. That’s called doing God’s work. The last time he was sighted in the public domain was in that Warren Beatty movie, Bulworth. He had a bit-part playing a street bum-cum-guardian angel to...

HENRY ROLLINS INTERVIEWED (1990): Volume and vehemence

HENRY ROLLINS INTERVIEWED (1990): Volume and vehemence

It’s the handshake which takes you aback first – a real knuckle-crushing pressure grip which Henry Rollins delivers impressively as his eyebrows level and his gaze hardens. On a first meeting, Rollins is a confrontational kind of guy. And a very heavily tattooed man. The tats snake across his taut forearms around his heavily...

THE BIRTH OF BEBOP -- A SOCIAL AND MUSICAL HISTORY by SCOTT DEVEAUX

THE BIRTH OF BEBOP -- A SOCIAL AND MUSICAL HISTORY by SCOTT DEVEAUX

Suggesting that this engrossing, historically investigative and anecdotally amusing book should be reviewed because it asked the question, "Was bebop jazz a revolution or simply a musical evolution?" drew the response: "Yep, that's a question that keeps most people awake at nights." Fair enough. But in these scrupulously...

BUPPIES, B-BOYS, BAPS AND BOHOS by NELSON GEORGE: Life on the black planet

BUPPIES, B-BOYS, BAPS AND BOHOS by NELSON GEORGE: Life on the black planet

When Time magazine declared then New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani its "person of the year" for 2001 -- over Osama Bin Laden who, like it or not, appeared to have made a greater impact -- and Oprah's dubbed him "America's Mayor", you could reasonably feel the Big Apple had become the centre of the known universe....

Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (XL)

Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here (XL)

When Gil Scott-Heron -- the American poet, activist and conscience of his nation from the Vietnam years to the Reagan era -- was jailed for cocaine in 2001, then again in ‘06 and ‘07, it seemed it was going to be the beginning of a slow, sad end for one of the most important voices out of black America. If he had done nothing...

SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION, a film by  BILL GUTTENTAG and DAN STURMAN, 2009 (Hopscotch DVD)

SOUNDTRACK FOR A REVOLUTION, a film by BILL GUTTENTAG and DAN STURMAN, 2009 (Hopscotch DVD)

Anyone who gets depressed and thinks little social progress has been made need only to look at this ultimately uplifting if sometimes horrifying film to see how far America has come in the past 50 years. Here is an account of the civil rights movement through the words of those who were there, in images that will variously make the heart...

FREEDOM, RHYTHM AND SOUND: Jazz with a raised fist and a copy of Malcolm X speeches in the other hand

FREEDOM, RHYTHM AND SOUND: Jazz with a raised fist and a copy of Malcolm X speeches in the other hand

Few people today -- musicians included -- consider rock or jazz as “political”, even in the broadest sense of the word. Yet back in the late 60s and through the 70s large areas of both certainly were. Less than a year after that remarkable year 1968 (student demonstrations, assassinations, political oppression and...

The Last Poets: When the Revolution Comes (1970)

The Last Poets: When the Revolution Comes (1970)

In the wake of the killing of Martin Luther King and the rise of Black Power politics, the ghettos were in flames. It was inevitable that music -- and in this case street poetry coupled with Afro-roots music -- should reflect, and even drive, the times. The Last Poets were mad as hell and not going to take it: and they were mad as hell about...

Gil Scott Heron: Winter in America (1974)

Gil Scott Heron: Winter in America (1974)

The great pre-rap, spoken word-cum-jazz-poet Gil Scott Heron is perhaps best known for his angry The Revolution Will Not Be Televised (see clip below) in which he assailed those uncommitted or comfortable blacks who seemed to be standing on the sideline while the streets ran red and Black Panthers had their fists raised. For him it was never...

CHRISTIAN SCOTT INTERVIEWED (2010): The navigator in difficult waters

CHRISTIAN SCOTT INTERVIEWED (2010): The navigator in difficult waters

Trumpeter Christian Scott out of New Orleans is a hot property in jazz these days. He has received considerable critical acclaim for his unique tone (he plays a specially made trumpet) and the intensity of his playing. He learned from grandfather Big Chief Donald Harrison Snr and uncle Donald Harrison Jnr who had played in Art Blakey's...

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)

Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (Concord)

From the opening bars - a slightly discordant guitar and unsettling drums and knocks -- this album announces itself as something delivering the unexpected by a young jazz trumpeter out of New Orleans. Scott, 27, and his smart young band here probe the edges of the avant-garde and free playing but always remain thoroughly grounded in the long...

Elaine Brown: Seize the Time (1969)

Elaine Brown: Seize the Time (1969)

In that period when rock joined hands with the revolutionaries (the late Sixties into the early Seventies) few could claim to so confidently occupy both sides: Brown was one of them. Born in Philadelphia, she moved to California in the mid-Sixties to wait tables, became a member of the Black Congress community orgainsation, wrote freedom...

CECIL TAYLOR IN 1990: Florescent flights

CECIL TAYLOR IN 1990: Florescent flights

Genius is the word a lot of people use about Cecil Taylor – but words get pretty debased these days. (“Genius, that‘s like brilliant - but better, yeah?” ) So let’s just say Cecil Taylor is different and interesting. Way back in the Fifties they used to debate whether his abstract speedthrash...

ALBERT AYLER: Opening the door to the future

ALBERT AYLER: Opening the door to the future

Albert Ayler -- the inspired, heroic, driven and sometimes difficult saxophonist who committed suicide in 1970 at age 34 -- still stands at a crossroads in jazz. By the late Nineties – when an exceptional, expanded edition of Ayler live surfaced -- even the music's most ardent advocates were having to concede that jazz was almost...

Various Artists: Message from the Tribe (Universal Sound/Southbound)

Various Artists: Message from the Tribe (Universal Sound/Southbound)

On the surface this may look like one for those with selective taste: here is a 12 track collection of inner city jazz from Tribe Records out of Detroit between '72 and '76. The dates are important: Motown had all but gone from the city, many of the jazz musicians had been used as session players but were inspired by Archie Shepp, Ornette...

PHILIP LARKIN ON JAZZ: The poet laureate of swing

PHILIP LARKIN ON JAZZ: The poet laureate of swing

Because we listen to the jazz of the Thirties and Forties at such an emotional distance, it is almost impossible for the 21st century, iPod-carrying, cool post-modernist to feel something -- possibly even anything -- of what so affected those who heard it as fresh, exciting, innovative and daring at the time. It is hard to sell the idea, let...

Lloyd McNeill: Asha (Universal Sounds/Southbound)

Lloyd McNeill: Asha (Universal Sounds/Southbound)

Jazz flautist Lloyd McNeill lived the kind of life only possible in his era: he counted among his friends in the Sixties and Seventies Pablo Picasso (when they both lived in the south of France, McNeill also being a painter), jazz musicians such as Cecil McBee and Ron Carter, singer Nina Simone and many in the Civil Rights movement. He...

FREE JAZZ WITH A BLEEP: The Norwegian electronic-jazz label Rune Grammofone

FREE JAZZ WITH A BLEEP: The Norwegian electronic-jazz label Rune Grammofone

Thelonious Monk said, "Jazz and freedom go hand in hand”. We can guess he meant freedom in a political sense, because jazz is about individual expression and in that regard was a vehicle for the aspirations of his people. It's about freedom and post-Monk found its voice in free jazz. Free jazz is much maligned, largely...

DAVID S. WARE: The price of free

DAVID S. WARE: The price of free

When the histories of jazz in the 20th century are published one name from the last two decades could loom unnaturally large: Wynton Marsalis. In some books he'll be hailed as the man who saved jazz from factionalism, commercial isolation and the like. In others he'll be the revisionist who used unquestionable talent, persuasive...

James Blood Ulmer: Are You Glad To Be In America (1981)

James Blood Ulmer: Are You Glad To Be In America (1981)

For many of the open-eared among jazz listeners -- those who had grown up on rock guitarists and heard in Hendrix the vanguard of a fusion, followed Miles Davis through Bitches Brew and Jack Johnson, had albums by John McLaughlin and understood jazz-funk -- it seemed as if guitarist-singer James Blood Ulmer was going to deliver them from...

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX: We're New Here (XL)

Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie XX: We're New Here (XL)

Although much hailed -- perhaps because no one expected to hear from him again -- last year's I'm New Here by American poet Gil Scott-Heron did seem a little under-developed: pieces faded out, other bits were just snippets of conversations and so on. That didn't deny its visceral power -- made more so given his recently troubled life -- but...

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Retrospective (Stem/Southbound)

The Blind Boys of Alabama: Retrospective (Stem/Southbound)

With this long-running gospel-cum-doo wop group due in New Zealand for a concert in April with Aaron Neville and Mavis Staples, this triple disc originally released in 2007 gets a timely re-release. The Blind Boys have been around in name since 1939 and recording since the late Forties -- a couple of their founders only died in the past...

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