Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Black Liberation Movement Suite - Performed by the Brooklyn College Big Band

written by Keelan Freitag
originally published by The Daily Campus

Last night's performance of "The Black Liberation Movement Suite" by the Brooklyn College Big Band left the local concert hall's audience members cheering on their feet.

"That was awesome," said Arijit Chakraborty, an 8th semester music major, directly after the show. "I am shaking in my seat even though I am standing up.  That was the best jazz show I have ever seen a college jazz ensemble perform at this school."

The piece, The Black Liberation Movement Suite, was commissioned by the Black Panthers in 1969 and composed by trumpeter Cal Massey.  It had never been recorded, until last night.

"By no mean is it commercial release quality," said Chris Sampson, director of jazz at WHUS, who brought the performance to UConn. "Musically, artistically, what these guys brought to the table is just ridiculous."

The '60s style, nine-movement jazz piece was performed by the Brooklyn College Big Band, along with community friends and musicians.  A total of 23 musicians graced the stage, some obvious professionals, some students.

"I would say about half the musicians are students [at Brooklyn College]," said band director Salim Washington.  His band described Washington, who has been director of the Big Band for over a decade, as "deep" and "very knowledgeable," but "loose" and "conversationally interesting with a unique style of humor."

The concert consisted of two introductory pieces: "Oxum" and "Meditations on Egypt," (both composed by Washington), the Black Liberation Movement Suite, and a surprise encore composed by the Sun-Ra Orchestra.

"I think he wrote that last night or on the bus ride up here," said vocalist Kosi Gyebi about "Meditations on Egypt." "We learned in on stage before the show."

When asked about The Black Liberation Movement Suite, clarinetist Quincy Saul said, "The reason this piece has never been recorded is because Cal Massey was very outspoken with his political views, so there is a very small minority of people in the world who have heard this stuff, and that has everything to do with politics.  Especially, as Salim opened with his song about Egypt, these are very important times to be reconsidering these ideas," referring to the Arab Spring.

Washington took about 15 minutes after the first two opening pieces to "let the players take a break" and to inform the audience of the Black Liberation Movement of the 1950s and 60s, which he said was more influential but less popular than the Civil Rights Movement.

And then he began the piece.

The 23 players soloed, bopped and even danced down the aisles of the concert hall.  Gyebi used a vocal technique that she called "screaming."

"This has surpassed all of my expectations," said Jenny Moffett, a 7th-semester music major and cultural affairs director at WHUS. "I'm so proud to be a part of it; it's so historical.  We brought this to UConn and got it recorded for the first time, in full."

"I feel that tonight there was a spirit of creativity involved," Washington said. "My band delivers good music the way its supposed to be.  There are people that approach the music as an artifact.  But the music in the way that this band approaches it makes it a living thing.  It makes me very proud."

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