The first chapter of this series was a sprawling disc of free-form jazz and spoken word. It was interesting and strange with a powerful message (not always elegantly delivered). It felt too long, but I think it was done live which would make it more understandable as a long presentation.
Chapter 2 is quite different. It is much shorter, but it has 18 tracks that flow seamlessly (and often without apparent logic) into each other. Most of the songs are quite short as well.
“invocation” is a sultry jazz number (Matana Roberts plays saxophone). There’s also piano, trumpet, double bass and drums. One thing that I didn’t like about the first chapter was Robert’s “poetry slam” deliver of her spoken words. This album more or less erases that all together with the inclusion of Jeremiah Abiah on “operatic tenor vocals.” I don’t know what he’s saying (if anything) most of the time, but his voice soars above the jazzy din.
“humility draws down blue” starts in the middle of a trumpet solo and lasts for a minute and a half. “all nations” is only 8 seconds long and seems to coincide with a vocal line from Abiah. “twelve sighed” settles things down some.
The first real change comes with “river ruby dues,” which opens with a gentle piano motif, and Abiah’s vocals. Roberts’ sax solo plays throughout. There are somewhat recognizable motifs played throughout the album. I was sure I heard parts of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
“amma jerusalem school” also opens with a new melody–a four note sax line–without a doubt the prettiest melody of the disc. About mid-way through the song, Roberts begins speaking/reciting. There’s a lot going on in her saga. When that ends, more instrumentals continue and “responsory” has a lovely falsetto singing section.
This half of the album has been fairly conventional jazz: rather pretty with some nice melodies—far more conventional than Chapter 1.
Although by “the labor of their lips,” things have become a bit more avant-garde. But even that doesn’t last too long and by “was the sacred day,” a pretty melody has resumed and more spoken word comes in, this time in stream of consciousness. It’s a story of childhood with some happy and some sad details including: “they didn’t like black people at the hospital. you could use a room but no nurses would attend to you.” and the story of a woman getting whipped for not saying ‘sir.’ Interspersed through this tale is a sung line “I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free.”
‘woman red racked’ features Robert’s singing voice—pretty and pained—with some nice, deep backing voices accompanying. Interestingly, this vocal part ends with them singing “Amen,” but the song is not over… a sax solo emerges from this and plays a kind of wild section with Abiah’s vocals until the end.
“thanks be you” is a spoken piece, a story told to a child about the past “there are some things I just can’t tell you about” which references a lot of childhood songs. It ends with the repeated refrain “Mississippi is a beautiful place.”
This disc is only 48 minutes and it feels just about the right length, “benediction” ends the disc with a quietly sung song with another singer accompanying her: their voices sound great together.
As with the first one, the narrative is a little unclear. The main thrust of the story is obvious and effective, but it would be hard to diagram the story. Nonetheless, her use of jazz and traditional sources (“red ruby dues,” “woman red racked” and “benediction” are based on traditional American folk songs), make for an evocative look into slavery from the point of view of one family.
[READ: March 20. 2016] Hidden
Having recently read the Resistance trilogy I am much more aware of France’s role in WWII. But that could never have prepared me for this children’s book about the Holocaust. (written by Loïc Dauvillier, translated from the French by Alexis Siegel with illustrations by Marc Lizano and Greg Salsedo).
The book opens on a little girl. She wakes up in bed and hears her grandmother crying. When she asks what’s wrong her grandmother tells her about the “nightmare she was having.”
And that nightmare is her story as a young Jewish girl in occupied France and how her life was brutally upended. This is all told with fairly cute little characters with oversized heads.
I’ve never heard this story from the point of view of a child before. Her grandmother was a little girl going to school. She and her friends did everything that you’d expect little kids to do and the story starts out very sweetly. Then one day she comes home and her father says that they must all be sheriffs–wear the yellow star on their lapel. Once they stray doing that, she is effectively shunned. But she has no idea why–why does everyone hate the sheriff?
She is sent to the back of the classroom, is never called on and is even insulted. Until her parents pull her from school entirely.
Things were tough. Long lines for food, and painted words on storefronts. But she was safe with her family. Until the police came.
They pounded on the door and took her parents away. Her parents had hidden her away in a trap door in a wardrobe. After nearly half a day in there, her neighbor came to get her. And that neighbor took care of her. The police knew there was still a Jewish girl in the neighborhood and they wanted to round her up. With help from the neighbors, she assumed a new identity and fled Paris.
They flee to the country and hide out.
I’m unclear how long she is away from her parents, but when the war is over, they look at posters of people at the various labor camps.
The devastation at the end is unbelievable. And then there is wonderfully touching epilogue set in present day. Holy crap.
I’m crying just thinking about it. Dauvillier’s story is powerful and beautifully constructed. Lizano and Salsedo’s illustrations add enough cartoony style to the story to make it less devastating than it could be (especially for kids), but do not gloss over the reality of what they are depicting.
First Second has released yet another powerfully intense book. #10yearsof01