FRED HO & QUINCY SAUL present The Music of Cal Massey: A Tribute
Bobby Zankel (alto sax); Bhinda Keidel, Salim Washington (tenor sax & other woodwinds); Ben Barson (baritone sax); Jackie Coleman, Nabate Isles, Jameson Chandler (trumpets); Frank Kuumba Lacy, Aaron Johnson (trombones); Art Hirahara (piano); Wes Brown (bass); royal hartigan (drums, African percussion); Melanie Dyer (viola); Dorothy Lawson (cello); Whitney George (conductor)
"What Fred Ho has done with his orchestra here is quite remarkable— the first recording ever of Massey’s 1970 10-movement “The Black Liberation Movement Suite” to which updates were made in 1986 by Romulus Franceschini." - J. S., Buffalo News
Calvin Massey (1928-1972) is virtually unknown with the exception of both highly knowledgeable "jazz" scholars and a small coterie of illustrious musicians who remain alive and were immensely indebted to Massey's musical influence and mentorship. Massey was a father figure and close friend to many of the greatest "jazz" musicians of the post-World War era until his early death in 1972.
Massey was a trumpeter, but was most noted as a composer of magisterial works, of which his epic opus was The Black Liberation Movement Suite, an extended work of nine movements. Until now, the work had never been recorded in its entirety. Cal Massey ranked among the greatest "jazz" composers of the 20th century, included with Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and Sun Ra.
The Black Liberation Movement Suite is one of the undiscovered gems of an epic "jazz" extended work. It perhaps may be regarded through the exposure of this recording release as one of the greatest "jazz" suites of the 20th century, joining Mingus' Epitaph, Let My Children Music and The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, the major Ellington suites and extended form works (the Sacred Concerts, The Liberian Suite, The Drum is a Woman, etc.), Oliver Nelson's The Afro-American Suite, and the varying cosmo-dramas of Sun Ra. While of considerable musical and artistic grandeur as these other great extended works, The BLM Suite is also a work of considerable socio-political significance, commissioned by the Black Panther Party and musically and ideologically expressing the revolutionary upsurge of the Black Liberation struggle in the U.S. during the late-1960s.
Three other Massey compositions are featured herein. Quiet Dawn was composed for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. Goodbye Sweet Pops is an homage to Louis Armstrong. Finally, The Cry of My People epitomizes Cal's compositional energy for combining the soulfulness of Spiritual-like melody with bold and complex harmonic structures.
The Black Liberation Movement Suite:
(Hey God-damn-it) Things Have Got to Change (7:10)
Man at Peace in Algiers (for Eldridge Cleaver) (5:12)
The Black Saint (for Malcolm X) (3:56)
The Peaceful Warrior (for Martin Luther King, Jr.) (5:31)
The Damned Don’t Cry (for Huey P. Newton) (4:50)
Reminiscing About Dear John (for John Coltrane) (2:14)
Back to Africa (for Marcus Garvey) (6:21)
Quiet Dawn (5:32)
Goodbye Sweet Pops (for Louis Armstrong) (5:39)
The Cry of My People (10:27)
At his death in 1972, trumpet player and composer Cal Massey was only five years older than John Coltrane had been when he died (at 40). He was a well-known shadow figure in jazz, much spoken of and alluded to with respect but almost never recorded. Most famously, Coltrane recorded Massey’s tune “Bakai,” and Massey’s tribute “Blues to Coltrane” (with Julius Watkins and Patti Bown) is his only surviving major record. What Fred Ho has done with his orchestra here is quite remarkable— the first recording ever of Massey’s 1970 10-movement “The Black Liberation Movement Suite” to which updates were made in 1986 by Romulus Franceschini. Individual movements are dedicated to Eldridge Cleaver, Malcolm X, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Huey P. Newton, Marcus Garvey and Coltrane, which indicates both the dating of the piece’s character and its disinclination to compromise. The sound of Ho’s orchestra is very much in the street-tough Sun Ra mold. What comes through, though, even with the occasionally rough-and-not-quite-ready orchestral sound, is how very beautiful this might turn out to be if played by musicians as skillful and practiced, say, as Wynton Marsalis’ Lincoln Center bunch. Even so, individual movements— “Man at Peace in Algiers (For Eldridge Cleaver)” —have no small beauty and spirit just as they are. This is music that veritably screams to be heard under the best circumstances, now that we all have an idea how very much is there. Three stars. ( J. S.)
With his profound disdain for the word “Jazz” – insisting that it’s a racial slur which ghettoizes the art form – bandleader/baritone saxophonist Fred Ho would probably be nonplussed to hear The Music of Cal Massey described as a great Jazz record. But (Hey God-damn-it) – to quote from one of the tune titles – it is. As a Marxist revolutionary Ho may want to designate this tribute in another fashion; it won’t diminish the quality of this performance.
Massey (1928-1972) was a Philadelphia-based trumpeter, who recorded sparingly and is best-known for his association with saxophonists Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, both of whom recorded his compositions. Massey was also a committed Black Nationalist and Ho has long insisted that the trumpeter’s affiliation with the Black Panthers is and was responsible for the neglect of this important Jazz composer’s works. Having been impressed with the complexity and political implications of Massey music when he performed it with Shepp in his teens, Ho has long championed the repertoire. This project is the result. The baritone saxophonist who has fought colon cancer for years doesn’t perform on the disc. However Quincy Saul, a clarinettist and political organizer who is one of Ho’s students, helped oversee and produce the disc.
Using a 12-piece ensemble conducted by Whitney George, the CD conveyed the strength, intensity and color of Massey’s compositions. Impressive solos are turned in by most of the players on the CD’s three ancillary tunes – arranged by Ho – but the session centrepiece is Massey’s nine-part “Black Liberation Suite”. Composed in 1970s and with arrangements updated in 1986 by Romulus Franceschini, Massey’s closest collaborator, the suite includes sequences honoring such heroes of Black Liberation as Coltrane, Malcolm X, Eldridge Cleaver, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton and Marcus Garvey.
While in 2012 the advisability of honoring Cleaver may be questionable, what can’t be questioned is the breath and integrity of the sounds themselves. Make no mistake these compositions aren’t a series of musical thoughts haphazardly strung together, but a legitimate suite with an introduction, an exposition, theme variations and a finale. True to Massey’s Afro-centric vision, the strings – Melanie Dyer’s viola and Dorothy Lawson’s cello – are used for more than Europeanized prettiness. As early as “(Hey God-damn-it) Things Have Got to Change”, the second track, Dyer’s prickly, pinched, double-stopped angling is as responsible for describing the agitated narrative as Bobby Zankel’s irregularly bisected reed trills. Here, and throughout, Royal Hartigan’s African percussion color the proceedings. When the finale involves not only big-band styled riffs from the horns, but the musicians vocalizing the title in a style that’s half-agitprop and half-ring-shout, originality is assured.
A track such as “The Damned Don’t Cry” organized as a showcase for Jackie Coleman’s muted trumpet work, contrasts his plunger tones with rubato brays from the other brass players and swaying sheets of sound from the reed players, The bluesy andante line echoes Charles Mingus’ “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady”, and through it expresses an affinity to some of Duke Ellington’s early tone poems. Wes Brown’s thumping double bass serves as counterweight to the trumpeter’s spits and wails which complete the section.
With the sequences seamlessly blending into one another, other stand-out soloists include Frank Kuumba Lacy, whose kinetic lines possess both the grit of gutbucket stylists and the melodic stirring of moderato timbres, plus tenor saxophonist Bhinda Keidel’s mid-range swallows and split tones. All along pianist Art Hirahara comps, clanks and clips, with his accompaniment as chromatic as it is challenging. Keidel, Lacy, Coleman and vamping baritone saxophonist Ben Barson also express themselves in the climatic finale, “Back to Africa”. True to Massey’s – and likely Ho’s universalist revolutionary creed – however, the track doesn’t accentuate any clichéd Dark Continent percussion. Instead with Hirahara bearing down muscularly and percussively on the keys, the broken-octave movement is spurred by Count Basie-like riffs with a faint Latin tinge. Meanwhile saxophonists soar to the top of their range and Lacy’s plunger trombone runs lead the undulating sounds to a contrapuntal crescendo.
Overall the CD is an essential disc of profound sounds. It’s an appropriate tribute to Massey, Franceschini, Ho, Saul, George and – sorry Fred –American Jazz.
Revolutionary Marxist, convinced polemicist and canny social critic, baritone saxophonist Fred Ho is all this and more. He’s particularly skillful in forging into music expressions of his beliefs, which include the need for oppressed people’s liberation and the intrinsic beauty of indigenous African-American and Orientalsourced sounds. Snake-Eaters, a matchless demonstration of Ho’s talents, uses only the reed textures available from a saxophone quartet. Present The Music of Cal Massey (A Tribute) is even more spectacular; via a larger sonic canvas available with 12 players, Ho interprets compositions by another politically sophisticated improviser.
Zankel and Washington also appear on Present The Music of Cal Massey, conducted by Whitney George. Massey (1928-72), best known for his association with Archie Shepp and John Coltrane, was a Philadelphiabased trumpeter and Black Nationalist, who recorded sparingly. Ho has long championed Massey’s repertoire, with Massey’s politics striking a responsive chord with him. In the jazz repertory spirit, Ho sets out to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of Massey’s major statement, The Black Liberation Movement Suite, a nine-part work from the ‘70s. Although in 2013 honoring Eldridge Cleaver as a hero of Black Liberation alongside Coltrane, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Huey Newton and Marcus Garvey is questionable, it doesn’t alter the music’s excellence.
As complex as contemporary notated compositions, Massey did a lot more than compose an Afrocentric suite for jazz-oriented big band (in Ho’s case four saxes, three trumpets, two trombones, rhythm section, viola and cello). Royal Hartigan’s African percussion colors the proceedings throughout and first-rate contributions are made by Zankel’s irregularly bisected reed trills, trombonist Frank Kuumba Lacy’s kinetic lines (combining gutbucket grit with a JJ Johnson-like staccato attack) and Jackie Coleman’s muted trumpet work. But the string players aren’t there for mere prettiness. For instance, on “(Hey Goddamn- it) Things Have Got to Change”, pinched, double-stopping from violist Melanie Dyer helps describe the agitated narrative alongside reed riffs. The tune’s finale melds swinging horn riffs with musicians chanting the lyrics in a style that’s halfagitprop and half-ring-shout. Coleman’s plunger tones are put to good use on tracks such as “The Damned Don’t Cry”, contrasted by swaying sheets of sound from the reed section with counterweight in the form of Wes Brown’s bass pumps.
As with all of Ho’s works, this CD blends selected traditionalism with musical modernism and advanced political consciousness. When the band showcases the closing “Back to Africa”, for instance, clichéd Dark Continent-like percussion displays aren’t upfront. Instead pianist Art Hirahara’s muscular key patterning helps Lacy’s undulating grace notes construct a broken-octave exposition completed by Count Basie band-like riffs and Latin music suggestions. As these narratives echo extended works such as Charles Mingus’ “The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady” and, through that masterpiece, Duke Ellington’s suites, Massey’s - and by extension Ho’s - affinity for the jazz tradition is cemented.