NYC Jazz Record – June 2019 issue
We Are One: Blood Drum Spirit (2019)
Director: Sarah Pettinella. Producer: Royal Hartigan
Starring: Royal Hartigan, David Bindman, Art Hirahara, Wes Brown
Directed by Sarah Pettinella, produced by Royal Hartigan, music by Blood Drum Spirit
Film review by John Pietaro
Royal Hartigan is a most vocal proponent of world music traditions. A professor in Ethnomusicology at Dartmouth as well as a lifelong student of culture, Hartigan is a singular force. The drummer-percussionist’s history extends to post-graduate study at Weselyan where he focused on African, Native American and Indian drumming and engaged in field research. Earlier, at Amherst, Hartigan concentrated on African American music with close tutelage under Ed Blackwell and coursework with Max Roach and Archie Shepp. The amalgam was a uniquely expansive view of jazz and improvisation. Hartigan performed and recorded with the late saxophonist/activist Fred Ho for decades, embarking on a career as steeped in international heritage as it is in building community. His own vehicle, Blood Drum Spirit, is a quartet enmeshed in this mission. The four musicians are featured in this powerful new documentary produced by Hartigan and directed by internationally acclaimed filmmaker and photographer Sarah Pettinella.
Saxophonist David Bindman is another Weselyan alumnus fusing world traditions with new music. A standard bearer of Downtown experimentation, he’s performed around the world and founded the Brooklyn Saxophone Quartet with Fred Ho. Pianist Art Hirahara has a career ranging from accompanist for vocalists to jazz composer and bandleader. He tours frequently in Japan and, like the others, Hiarhara was also a Fred Ho band member; his discography includes Ho’s Cal Massey tribute. Bassist Wes Brown first came to prominence in the ensembles of Wadada Leo Smith, with whom he continues to work, but his resume extends to Anthony Braxton, Earl Fatha Hines and, yes, Fred Ho. If there is a central fixture here, it’s not just Ho, but the baritone saxophonist’s commitment to social justice via Asian and African culture and the voices of the oppressed. Change realized through creativity.
Hartigan states in We Are One that upon first hearing African music, he recognized its relationship to jazz. “It brought me to a place that transcends everyday life” and as soon as he had the opportunity to do so, brought the band to Ghana. “You have to be in the culture with the people”, he explained.