CULTURAL WORKINGS

Welcome to THE CULTURAL WORKER, a blog dedicated to arts of the people ranging from the radical avant garde and free jazz to dissident folk forms and popular arts . The Cultural Worker celebrates revolutionary creativity and features a variety of essays, reviews, fiction, reportage, poetry and musings through the internet pen of this writer, musician and cultural organizer. Scroll straight down and you'll also find an extensive historical Photo Exhibit of cultural workers in action, followed by a series of Radical Arts Links. The features herein will be unabashedly partisan---make no mistake about that. The concept of the cultural worker as a force of fearless creativity, of social change, indeed as an artistic arm of radicalism, has always been left-wing when applied with any degree of honesty at all. No revolutionary act can be truly complete in the absence of art, no progressive campaign can retain its message sans the daring drumbeat of invention, no act of dissent can stand so strong as that which counts the writers, musicians, painters, dancers, actors, photographers, film and performance artists within its ranks. Here's to the history and legacy of cultural work in the throes of the good fight...
john pietaro

Friday, October 5, 2012

The October Jazz Revolution 2012




THE OCTOBER JAZZ REVOLUTION’  
TAKES ON WILLIAMSBURG

On October 20, the Brooklyn gallery/performance space 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts will play host to the first annual October Jazz Revolution. The event, organized by percussionist John Pietaro and presented by the Radical Arts Front, will celebrate the radical sounds of improvisational music as a statement of wider liberation. A special feature of the evening will be the large free ensemble of saxophonist Ras Moshe. Emboldened progressive statements of social justice will be present through much of the music heard, ranging from original works to reconstructions of older protest music to thematic free jazz. The October Jazz Revolution is inspired by earlier Left music/political movements including those of Hanns Eisler, Bill Dixon, the AACM, the Liberation Music Orchestra, and the Composers Collective of New York, among others------fitted for these Occupy years.

7:15--RADIO NOIR
The 'dissident swing' quartet performs adaptations of Bertolt Brecht/Hanns Eisler revolutionary songs as well as originals, free improv and more.
John Pietaro (xylophone, vibraphone, percussion & voice), Laurie Towers (electric bass), Javier Hernandez-Miyares (electric guitar & effects), Quincy Saul (clarinet)

8:10--ERIKA DAGNINO SEXTET
Spoken word and improvisational music featuring international poet Erika Dagnino during her return trip to NYC.
Erika Dagnino (poetry), Jean Carla Rodea (vocals), Ras Moshe (tenor saxophone, flutes), Sarah Bernstein (violin), Josh Sinton (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet), John Pietaro (vibraphone,  drumkit).

9:05--NORA MCCARTHY & JORGE SYLVESTER
The powerfully creative, swinging duet of vocals and saxophone explores all walks of jazz, spoken word sound exploration
Nora McCarthy (vocals), Jorge Sylvester (alto saxophone)

10:00--RAS MOSHE'S MUSIC NOW!
Closing out this evening of revolutionary sound will be multi-reedist Ras Moshe and his large improvisatory ensemble:
Ras Moshe (tenor saxophone, flutes), Jeremy Dannemann (baritone saxophone, flute), Nick Gianni (baritone saxophone, flute), John Pietaro (vibraphone, frame drums, percussion), Dafna Naphtali (electronics), Tor Snyder (electric guitar), Tom Zlabinger (double bass), Kit Demos (electric bass)

When: SATURDAY OCTOBER 20, 7PM – 11PM
Where: 17 FROST THEATRE OF THE ARTS
17 Frost Street, Brooklyn NY   (between Lorimer St and Union Ave)
Admission: suggested donation - $10.
FOR MORE INFO SEE  www.DissidentArts.com

Friday, August 3, 2012

DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2012 BRIDGES FREE JAZZ, PROTEST POETRY, RADICAL FILM AND OCCUPY ACTIVISM


DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2012 BRIDGES FREE JAZZ, PROTEST POETRY, RADICAL FILM AND OCCUPY ACTIVISM
By John Pietaro


2012 marks the seventh year of the Dissident Arts Festival, the annual forum of revolutionary cultural workers. This year’s Fest will stretch the boundaries of protest art further than before during performances of avant garde jazz, experimental music, radical poetry and performance art, world sounds, original topical ballads and interpretations of the works of Bertolt Brecht and Hanns Eisler, as well as film screenings--- including one with a live score provided by a hand-picked aggregation of contemporary improvisational musicians. Naturally, the theme behind all of it is social justice.

Founded initially as a Bush-era call to arms within the folk music community of upstate New York, the Festival has increasingly demanded that audiences shed traditional concepts of “protest song” and those who perform it. That initial 2006 edition, then called ‘the Dissident Folk Festival’, was born of the need to feature revolutionary songwriters’ works within the standard folk repertoire, but it quickly became a challenge to the folk community itself; our roots lie not only with the Almanac Singers and Phil Ochs but with radical classical musicians Hanns Eisler and the Composers Collective of New York, as well as the Black Arts Movement, John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy and Alan Ginsberg. Staged  over an October weekend in Beacon NY, the 2006 Fest  carried the message that protest singers are not always white guys with acoustic guitars --and it included a rainbow of cultures, a variety of ages (from 16 to 90) and both genders.  But the real challenge was in the performance itself. Though the first Fest featured  Pete Seeger in a tribute to Woody Guthrie, as well as several other celebrated acoustic artists like Bev Grant, it also included post-punk acts like Lach (founder of the ‘anti-folk’ movement), harder-edged feminist singers, several jazz musicians and a variety of electric bands as well as noted raconteur Malachy McCourt, then running on the Green Party line as gubernatorial candidate. Throw in the Pittsburg Raging Grannies, guest speakers, a smattering of radical poets and a special tribute to Paul Robeson which featured Henry Foner and vocalist Kenneth Anderson, and it became clear that the event had  lasting power. 

By year two, the Fest had become ‘the Dissident Folk and Arts Festival’ as its propensity toward modernism and new music was becoming evident. That year the big feature was a tribute to revolutionary playwright Bertolt Brecht and the music ranged from radical cabaret to punk-folk to standard topical song and avant garde performance. And with each successive year, the Fest grew further into a ‘Dissident Arts Festival’ which embraced all forms of protest art, but offered a focus to a creativity which is as radical as our politics. In 2010 the Festival moved to New York City (when I moved back after a 5-year sojourn to the Hudson Valley) and took up residence at the Brecht Forum. And this year we offer a 2-day Fest which will occur at both the Brecht Forum and Williamsburg performance space/gallery 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts. Sure, it sounds like usual PR to say that this one is the best yet, but this time it’s absolutely the case. And in the shadow of a series of uprisings all around us and a coming presidential election which will be a referendum on the people’s movement, it couldn’t be a more important time to fuse our activism and our vision. 

If there is to be one act credited as headliner this year, it would be Karl Berger, a founder of the world jazz movement and a major figure of free jazz, Karl’s improvisations on piano and vibraphone have been  heard around the world, often in the company of artists such as Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry. Karl, along with Cherry and his wife the poet/vocalist Ingrid Sertso, founded the Creative Music Studio, an institution which brought together a global music force in the service of a deeper level of creativity, peace and internationalism. At the 2012 Dissident Arts Festival, Karl will lead a quartet with Ingrid Sertso, bassist Ken Filiano and this writer on frame drums and percussion (it happens Sat 8/18). 

Another feature this year will be a screening of Fritz Lang’s classic silent sci-fi film ‘Metropolis’ –a movie which displays the class struggle of the embattled populace against the privileged status quo. A live score will be provided by the nine hand-picked improvisers of the Dissident Arts Orchestra (this will happen on Fri 8/17). Another film on board is Iara Lee’s ‘Cultures of Resistance’ which will open up the Fest on Saturday the 18th

A wide variety of performance will occur on both days, ranging from the balladeer Donald Johnson to the noise/experimental sounds of Faster, and the dissident swing of Radio NOIR to the avant jazz of Ras Moshe, protest songs of Ann Arbor’s Joe Kidd to the jazz and poetry of San Francisco’s Upsurge! , the free music of Cheryl Pyle & Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic to the People’s Cabaret of Jennie Litt & David Alpher. Plus a guest speaker from Occupy Musicians. And so much more. The full schedule is below---but be sure to stop by www.DissidentArts.com for further info, photos from past years and recordings by Radio NOIR, this writer’s own ensemble. 

The Dissident Arts Festival 2012 is presented by Dissident Arts.
Sponsors: the Rosenberg Fund for Children, the Brecht Forum, 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts.
Producer/host: John Pietaro

SCHEDULE:
DAY ONE: FRIDAY AUGUST 17, 8PM - 11PM
17 Frost Theatre of the Arts - 17 Frost Street, Brooklyn NY www.17frost.com

 RADICAL SONGWRITERS FORUM:
8:00- Joe Kidd – from Ann Arbor---topical songs in and beyond the tradition
8:30- Donald Johnson – ballads of work, struggle, life
9:00- FASTER – the duet of soprano saxophone/voice and electric guitar/’junk percussion’ twists song-form into social satire

FILM SCREENING with LIVE ACCOMPANIMENT:
10PM – Fritz Lang’s silent sci-fi/social change film classic 'METROPOLIS' (1927) with a live improvised score by  THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA: John Pietaro (xylophone/drumkit/percussion/musical direction), Mossa Bildner (voice), Cheryl Pyle (flute), Quincy Saul (clarinet), Rocco John Iacovone (soprano and alto saxophones), Nick Gianni (tenor saxophone and flute), Ben Barson (baritone saxophone), Javier Hernandez-Miyares (electric guitar/keyboards), Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic (upright bass).
******************************************************************************************

DAY TWO: SATURDAY AUGUST 18, 4PM - 11PM
The Brecht Forum - 451 West Street, New York NY (212) 242-4201   www.brechtforum.org

FILM SCREENING and DISCUSSION:
4PM -'CULTURES OF RESISTANCE' (2003)- ‘Can music and dance be weapons of peace? In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director Iara Lee embarked on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict...

CONCERT:
6:00 –Jennie Litt & David Alpher – purveyors of the People’s Cabaret
6:35 –Cheryl Pyle & Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic - free flute and bass + guests
7:05 –Angelo Verga – radical poetry
7:10 - Daphne Carr- guest speaker: Occupy Musicians co-founder
7:15 –Radio NOIR - dissident swing and new realizations of Brecht/Eisler
7:50 – Karl Berger & Ingrid Sertso - free improv/world jazz by the legendary founders of the CMS!
8:40 –Upsurge! – from San Francisco---jazz/poetry for a new day
9:25 –Crystal Shipp - performance art/spoken word of social change
9:40 – Ras Moshe & Shayna Dulberger – revolutionary jazz in the struggle
10:15-Nick Gianni Evolution - free jazz and more

Sponsored by the Rosenberg Fund for Children, 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts 
and the Brecht Forum


Monday, May 28, 2012

Preview: THE DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2012----Save the Dates!




Press Contact:    John Pietaro       (646) 599-0060        leftmus@earthlink.net             www.DissidentArts.com

THE DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2012
TWO STAGES!   TWO DAYS!   TWO BOROUGHS!
Friday August 17, 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts (Williamsburg, Bklyn) –and-  Saturday August 18, the Brecht Forum (Greenwich Village). The 2012 edition of THE DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL will feature a wide array of artists of conscience from radical jazz musicians to protest singers to experimental artists and everything in between. Featured performers include legends of Free Jazz and World Music KARL BERGER and INGRID SERTSO. Another special feature will be a screening of ‘METROPOLIS’ with live improvised accompaniment. The Festival is a showcase of cultural workers and serves as a bridge between the arts and the progressive activist community. We present a great span of just what 'protest' art is: radical avant garde Jazz, topical Song, dissentful Poetry, revolutionary New Music, social justice Film and Theatre, Post-Punk dissidence, World sounds, progressive performance of social change. *****************************************************************************************
DAY ONE: FRIDAY AUGUST 17, 8PM - 11PM
17 Frost Theatre of the Arts - 17 Frost Street (between Lorimer and Union Streets), Brooklyn NY
www.17frost.com
 RADICAL SONGWRITERS FORUM: (8PM – 10PM):
*JACKIE SHEELER, punk-laced topical song & poetry
*DONALD JOHNSON, contemporary songs of work, struggle and life
*JOE KIDD, protest music by Michigan-based singer-songwriter
*FASTER, the experimental side of social parody with soprano sax/voice and avant guitar duo

FILM SCREENING w/LIVE ACCOMPANIMENT (10PM – Midnight):
*The silent sci-fi/social change film classic 'METROPOLIS' with a live improvised score by THE DISSIDENT ARTS ORCHESTRA: John Pietaro (xylophone/drumkit/percussion/musical direction), Cheryl Pyle (flute), Quincy Saul (clarinet), Rocco John Iacovone (soprano and alto saxophones), Nick Gianni (tenor saxophone and flute), Ben Barson (baritone saxophone), Javier Hernandez-Miyares (electric guitar/keyboards), Nicolas Letman-Burtinovic (upright bass).
******************************************************************************************
DAY TWO: SATURDAY AUGUST 18, 4PM - 11PM
The Brecht Forum - 451 West Street (between Bank and Bethune streets), New York NY
(212) 242-4201   www.brechtforum.org
FILM SCREENING AND DISCUSSION (4PM - 5:45 PM):
*'CULTURES OF RESISTANCE'  -
Can music and dance be weapons of peace? In 2003, on the eve of the Iraq war, director Iara Lee embarked on a journey to better understand a world increasingly embroiled in conflict and, as she saw it, heading for self-destruction. After several years, travelling over five continents, Iara encountered growing numbers of people who committed their lives to promoting change. This is their story.

CONCERT: (6PM - 11PM):
*KARL BERGER & INGRID SERTSO, improvisational world music by legendary founders of CMS!
*UPSURGE! rad jazz and poetry from San Francisco
*CHERYL PYLE & NICOLAS LETMAN-BERTINOVIC, free flute and bass + special guests
*RAS MOCHE, the improv of revolution
*ANGELO VERGA, activist poetry
*RADIO NOIR, dissident swing and realizations of the works of Brecht & Eisler
*CRYSTAL SHIPP, progressive performance art
*JENNIE LITT & DAVID ALPHER, radical cabaret
*NICK GIANNI EVOLUTION, free jazz and more
for more info see:
www.DissidentArts.comand-  www.facebook.com/pages/THE-DISSIDENT-ARTS-FESTIVAL/116881725023683
*****
About the Dissident Arts Festival…

Now, in the midst of right-wing fear-mongering and teabag hysteria, progressive artists speak out for social justice. The Dissident Arts Festival, now in its seventh year, is a platform for cultural workers to sing, recite, improvise, act and orate against war and inequity and in honor of the struggle of workers and the globally oppressed---and with an accent on an art that is as revolutionary and challenging as the politics of progressive change . Event producer John Pietaro, a percussionist, writer and cultural organizer, is proud to present the Dissident Arts Festival in conjunction with both the Brecht Forum and 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts.

Originally based in upstate New York, the Festival began life as ‘the Dissident Folk Festival’ in 2006. Its primary goal was the establishment of an annual showcase of progressive protest music, poetry and performance art--perhaps the only such fest in the nation. But this Festival has always sought to bring together a wide variety of sounds and styles, bending rules and breaking institutions whenever and wherever possible. Among our past performers and speakers were actor/raconteur Malachy McCourt, folk legend Pete Seeger, poet Louis Reyes Rivera,  jazz violinist Gwen LAster, hip hop ensemble ReadNex Poetry Squad, filmmaker Kevin Keating (“Giuliani Time”), labor leader Henry Foner, folksinger Bev Grant and many more. We presented tributes to Woody Guthrie, Paul Robeson, Bertolt Brecht and Phil Ochs along the way. The Festival has also offered a voice to progressive political candidates, particularly those of independent parties and radical labor organizations. As of 2010, the Dissident Arts Festival became added to the Brecht Forum's notable cultural program. The Brecht Forum was established decades ago as a center of Left education and culture in Greenwich Village. And now we have become a 2-day, 2-borough event with the affiliation of 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts, an independent radical gallery and performance space in Williamsburg Brooklyn.

THIS YEAR’S FESTIVAL promises to be the best yet featuring an array of experimental and boundary-breaking artists in every realm of radical music, from the acclaimed explorations of Karl Berger & Ingrid Sertso, to the burning free jazz of Ras Moshe, the innovative avant garde of Nick Gianni, the nu sounds Cheryl Pyle & Nicolas Letman-Bertinovic, the edgy sonic journey of Faster, and the new realms of the bold and the old with Radio NOIR. But the 2012 Festival also presents an assortment of acts which encompass revolutionary poetry, song, and/or theatre through unique means: the outspoken San Francisco-based jazz-poetry of Upsurge!, the post-punk agitated songs of celebrated singer-poet Jackie Sheeler, the rad spoken word of Angelo Verga, the ‘People’s Cabaret’ of Jennie Litt & David Alpher and the multiple worlds of Crystal Shipp’s performance art. We will also present traditional topical songsters such as balladeer Donald Johnson and the Michigan-based protest singer Joe Kidd. This year’s film screenings include powerhouse social statements of two centuries: ‘Cultures of Resistance’ by Iara Lee (with discussion), and ‘Metropolis’ by Fritz Lang---featured here with a live score by the hand-picked improvisers of The Dissident Arts Orchestra.

THE DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL 2012 is presented by
Dissident Arts, the Brecht Forum, and 17 Frost Theatre of the Arts.
Organizer/Producer/Host:  John Pietaro

The arts ARE a weapon for social change…….

Thursday, April 26, 2012

REVOLUTIONARY MUSIC EVENTS: MAY 2012


 (photo of Karl Berger's Improvisers Orchestra by Don Mount)


News from the Cultural Front.......


Here's a NYC-based arts alert concerning some 'May Month' performance events I am involved with. Hoping to say 'hello' to some of you at these events which run from May Day itself through the next couple of weeks of the month. I know there are many wonderful rad events happening out there that I may need to miss due to my involvement with these, but there's room enough for all of these progressive-minded concerts and more! What better way to speak to the pressing issues around us than through radical arts?

1) KARL BERGER'S IMPROVISERS ORCHESTRA: Tues May 1, 7:30 (workshop) and 9PM (performance), the Jazz Gallery 290 Hudson St, Greenwich Village. This Free Jazz large ensemble is conducted by one of the greats of improvisational and world music, Karl Berger, and this band--like the one he led last year that had residency at the Stone--is as revolutionary as they come. The music is comprised of free expression shaped by Karl's guiding hands; the band numbers up to 26 pieces including flutes, clarinet, bass clarinet, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, violins, mandolin, vocals and a double rhythm section (2 electric guitars, 2 upright basses, percussion and drumkit) . My seat in the back---playing conga, frame drums, and various percussives---has brought me to the center of it all, including working alongside guests like John Zorn, Warren Smith, and many more. The Orchestra is in the midst of a biweekly residency at this hip, Village club but I suspect the May Day gig should be quite memorable. After the march and rally in Union Square, come on down to Hudson St and revel in the sounds. See www.creativemusicstudio.org for much more info.

2) LAUNCH EVENT FOR CAMPAIGN TO FREE RUSSELL MAROON SHOATZ! Saturday, May 5th, 2012, 6-8 PM, St. Mary's Episcopal Church, 521 W 126th Street, Harlem. An evening of music, spoken, word and discussion on Maroon's life, featuring Theresa Shoatz, renowned Philadelphia-based prison justice activist; Fred Ho, internationally renowned saxophone player and composer; Arturo O'Farrill, legendary Cuban-American pianist; and Magdalena Gomez, poet and veteran of the Nuyurican Poets Movement. The campaign is being launched by Scientific Soul Sessions (SSS), a collective of revolutionary artists, farmers and organizers based in New York City, to call for justice for RUSSELL MAROON SHOATZ, a 70-year-old political prisoner who has spent the last 40 years of his life in various penitentiaries across the United States. An SSS band will also present the debut performance of a new piece composed by Salim Washington dedicated to this cause. I am still awaiting word on the full line-up of performers for this edition of the SSS Band but it will include the saxophones of the composer as well as of Fred Ho and Ben Barson, plus Quincy Saul's clarinet and my own xylophone and percussion. Please be sure to see info on SSS as well as this important event at www.scientificsoulsessions.com

3) RADIO NOIR: Sunday, May 6th, 7PM, ABC No Rio 145 Rivington Street Lower East Side. My quartet 'Radio NOIR' returns to this noted anarchist space for another edition of the COMA experimental music series. We will dedicate this show to May Day and Labor History Month. Radio NOIR is known as a dissident swing band, performing music at once avant garde and recalling the sounds and fervent radicalism of the 1930s. The evening will also include performances by other revolutionary music artists: Faster, Brian Abbott, Golden Rectangles and Stan Nishimura Ensemble. For more info on Radio NOIR please stop by www.reverbnation.com/radionoir

4) RADIO NOIR: Sunday May 13, 8PM, Goodbye Blue Monday 1087 Broadway, Bushwick Brooklyn. Radio NOIR brings our art deco-damaged improv to this hip Bushwick club, performing with the very cool-sounding Hot Club of Flatbush; their set is 8 - 10 and we will go on at 10PM. For this gig our full quartet will be there: Quincy Saul (clarinet), Laurie Towers (electric bass), Javier Hernandez-Miyares (electric guitar & effects) and your truly on xylophone, bells, percussion and voice. For more info on Radio NOIR please stop by www.reverbnation.com/radionoir

ALSO be sure to save these dates....AUGUST 17 and 18 for THE 2012 DISSIDENT ARTS FESTIVAL: 2 Days! 2 Stages! 2 Boroughs! For more info see www.DissidentArts.com as well as the Festival's Facebook page where we will be posting updates.

In Solidarity,
John Pietaro
www.DissidentArts.com

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Performance/CD review - Cal Massey Tribute




The ‘60s Jazz Revolutionary Who’s Time Has Finally Come
Performance and CD review by John Pietaro

THE MUSIC OF CAL MASSEY: A TRIBUTE
Performance: February 22, 2012, the Red Rooster, New York City
Compact Disc:  Mutable Music, NY. Produced by Fred Ho and Quincy Saul, Scientific Soul Sessions – www.scientificsoulsessions.com

Harlem’s historic Red Rooster was a house afire as the music of radical jazz composer Cal Massey commanded the space within. In honor of Black History Month and coinciding with the birth anniversary of Malcolm X, the outspokenly dissident musician Fred Ho feted the music that leapt off of the manuscript through the fifteen hand-picked musicians under his direction. The walls appeared to almost quake under the weight of this band, driven not only by the expansive vision of Massey’s composition but the deft improvisatory ear of the leader who included free sections within the already post-modernist score. Ho demonstrated a form of conduction that appeared much like upper-torso modern dance as he waved in cues and embraced the sheets of sound about him.
Though the music being presented was written more than forty years ago, it remained urgent, immediate. Cal Massey was a trumpeter and composer who worked with a who’s who of jazz greats including Coltrane, Parker, Monk, Billie Holiday, Carmen McCrae, McCoy Tyner, Jay McShann, and most notably Archie Shepp who recorded the greatest number of Massey’s pieces. But the composer’s name will not be known to most jazz connoisseurs as he, like other militant African American artists before him, has largely been erased from music history.  He was a leader of the Black Arts Movement and a close associate of the Black Panther Party who had come of age in the heat of the 1960s’ political conscience. Largely blacklisted by the jazz industry and major labels, he embarked on a career based in the concept of Black self-determination, producing concerts independently.

As is the case with much of Massey’s work, it was written in conjunction with Romulus Franceschini, a socialist musician who specialized in chamber jazz composition. Both worked with artists such as Shepp and Coltrane and their bond was a testament of the progressive scope, Black Nationalist and Italian-American radical standing together. Franceschini is another marginalized figure in jazz history, most noted for conducting Coltrane’s Africa Brass recording. He worked closely with Massey, usually in the role of orchestrator but their collaboration also involved co-writing credits and the two led the RoMas Orchestra together. Unfortunately they would have little chance to continue this relevant work as Massey died in 1972, a mere 44 years of age. Franceschini updated the arrangements in 1986 in preparation for an earlier series of concerts Ho produced in honor of Massey.

THE CONCERT AT THE RED ROOSTER was not only about the welcome resurfacing of Massey, but of his work The Black Liberation Movement Suite, commissioned by Eldridge Cleaver in 1969. Massey wrote this 9-movement work for expanded jazz ensemble of reeds, brass, strings and rhythm as a fundraiser for the Black Panther Party. It has rarely been heard beyond the tumult of those times and only segments of it have been recorded—by Shepp--before this project undertaken by Ho and two younger musicians, the baritone saxophonist Ben Barson and clarinetist Quincy Saul (who does not perform in this piece as the arrangements were kept true to the original, but acted as a producer). As explosive as it is introspective, The Black Liberation Movement Suite stands out as a sonic tour through the African American revolutionary experience, brandishing movements with radical fervor:  Prayer, (Hey Goddamnit) Things Gotta Change, Man at Peace in Algiers (for Eldridge Cleaver), the Black Saint (for Malcolm X), the Peaceful Warrior (for Martin Luther King Jr), the Damned Don’t Cry (for Huey P Newton), Reminiscing About Dear John (for John Coltrane), Babylon, and Back to Africa (for Marcus Garvey). Appropriately so, the Suite includes various sounds evoking jazz history with points of defined free jazz, be-bop, swing, New Orleans and ‘third-stream’ jazz which incorporated contemporary classical traditions. 

As Fred Ho stood before them, the musicians played with an intensity that spoke of the piece’s inherent activism. The ensemble passages and solos, swinging, cruising the airspace, exploded with passion and rage. The music not only reflected 1969 but the radicalism of now, from anti-war and labor struggles to Wisconsin to the Occupy Movement and the ongoing fight against racism. Among the primary soloists of the evening were tenor saxophonists Bhinda Keidal, who brought an almost Dexter Gordon-like quality to the proceedings with her smoky, searching instrumental voice, and Salim Washington (who doubled on flute), noted free jazz musician and scholar who offered a point of chaotic intensity that slowly rounded out into a haunting melody and then disappeared into a whisper. However, the first solo of the evening was deftly executed by alto saxophonist Darius Jones whose fingers raced over his instrument’s keys, soaring over the orchestral mass each time he stood to play. Ben Barson’s baritone saxophone offered a fresh voice, pulled from the lower depths of his horn and then upward. The brass section included Nabate Isles, Satish Robertson and James Zollar’s trumpets as well as Aaron Johnson’s trombone and David Talyor’s bass trombone. Each offered masterful solos, ranging from the growl trumpet sound with plunger mute to Gillespie-ish flights to gutbucket bursts. Charles Burnham, violin, and Adam Fisher, cello, comprised the string section. Both were visionary soloists whose ensemble parts emphasized the textural possibilities, blending into and then leaping out from the winds.

The rhythm section of Arthur Hirahara, electric piano, Julian Litwack, electric guitar, Wayne Batchelor, upright bass and Royal Hartigan, drums and percussion functioned as much more than support. One moment laying it down, the next kicking it up over the heads of the house, they were equally comfortable in every mode. Special attention must be paid to Hartigan, a learned percussion master who embarks in world music explorations each time he sits down at his drumkit, which includes temple and wood blocks and other ‘traps’ including a talking drum and a gong. Of note to percussionists (including this writer), Hartigan can often be heard playing his gong like a ride cymbal for a ‘kerr-ang’ that no cymbal can supply. Ever the traditionalist in a setting comprised of musical emulsion, Hartigan said that he often feels a sense of guilt playing ethnic instruments apart from their tradition. But this evening was about the amalgamation of sounds that spoke to the people at large.

The compact disc, ‘The Music of Cal Massey: a Tribute’, was officially released at the Harlem concert. This disc is the first complete recording of Massey’s monumental Suite and thereby stands as historic unto itself. But Ho, who produced this recording with Quincy Saul, took the tribute further still. He also arranged a series of shorter Massey compositions for the CD, Goodbye Sweet Pops (for Louis Armstrong), The Cry of My People and Quiet Dawn, which was originally composed for the Duke Ellington Orchestra. These works together with the Suite serve now as the ultimate Massey compilation. For the recording, Ho brought in conductor Whitney George and much of the band heard at the Red Rooster, but for the record, the disc line-up is: along with Bobby Zankel (alto saxophone), Binda Keidel and Salim Washington (tenor saxophones), Ben Barson (baritone saxophone); Jackie Coleman, Nabate Isles and James Chandler (trumpets), Frank Kuumba Lacy and Aaron Johnson (trombones), Art Hirahara (piano), Wes Brown (bass), Royal Hartigan (drums and African percussion), Melanie Dyer (viola), Dorothy Lawson (cello). A revolutionary artist like Massey, lost to time and by the hand of the reactionaries, is in need of rediscovery by a new generation hungry for the culture of dissent. Add this CD to your collection and file it along with your ‘Autobiography of Malcolm X’, collection of Langston Hughes poetry, your favorite old Woody Guthrie records and DVD of ‘Salt of the Earth’. 

Here’s a recording that will stand the test of our time and place…..and as you read of the latest hateful, divisive rhetoric of a Rick Santorum, a Newt Gingrich or an Eric Cantor, it will remind you of the need for real social change in our current society. Speak to us Cal Massey, speak. 

-John Pietaro is a musician and writer from Brooklyn NY. His website is www.DissidentArts.com. This piece was originally published on The Cultural Worker blog