4 min read

Black Lives, Black Voices

How do we begin to address the unspeakable? By listening to and learning from those impacted most directly, by acting in accord with their guidance, and by enacting fundamental change.
Black Lives, Black Voices

Prelude

In solidarity with protests taking place across the country and around the world, sparked by the unconscionable murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many others, I’ve postponed this week’s regular installments of Night After Night. Truth is, I’ve worked every day this week on the articles I’d originally intended to publish—but found myself distracted continuously by outrage and grief.

The subjects I’d intended to write about will hold. Instead, today I’ll put forth a promise and a suggestion.

First, the promise: Night After Night must do a better job – and will do a better job – of representing the voices and viewpoints of artists of color working in the new-music communities I cover. This is not a new decision or change of direction – as it happens, interviews with two very prominent composers have been delayed by circumstances beyond anyone’s control, starting even before I launched this newsletter in late April – but it is an affirmation that I absolutely must do anything in my power to bring those stories, and more, to all who read me.

Second, as you almost certainly know if you subscribe to Night After Night, the online music-sales platform Bandcamp is hosting one of its semi-regular fees-waived sales days today, running until midnight PST. This specific initiative originally was sparked by the widespread need of artists to make up for income lost because of the COVID-19 pandemic—and that need very much still exists. But many artists and labels have declared their intent to forward whatever profits they receive today toward social-justice initiatives related to the present crisis.

In addition, Bandcamp has declared that on June 19 – Juneteenth, so called because June 19, 1865, was the date that the Emancipation Proclamation (issued on January 1, 1863, recall) was read to slaves in Texas – the company will now and hereafter donate the entirety of its share of sales to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

So, please do go shop, today and on June 19. I’ll offer a small handful of suggestions. But for an eye-popping list of black artists, labels, and producers whose music is available on Bandcamp, see blackbandcamp.info, an extraordinary volunteer-assembled spreadsheet.


Album of the Week

I’m not going to review a single album this time around; instead, I’m going to urge you to look at a whole bunch. Yesterday was the 75th birthday of Anthony Braxton, the artist who comes to my mind first anytime anyone uses the term “greatest living composer.” This year should have been the climax to the Braxton75 concert campaign that’s been going on for close to two years now, but 2020 has proved distinctly anticlimactic in that regard as in many others.

Even so, there’s no time like the present to begin or bolster your Braxton collection, and I’m going to list a few of my favorite things to get you started. (Apologies for anyone who saw what follows in a Twitter thread I spontaneously blurted yesterday.)

These two lovingly curated anthologies offer a lovingly curated overview of the riches available on Braxton’s own imprint, New Braxton House. Each is available on a pay-what-you-will basis; grab ’em both.

The latest in a series of oversize boxed opuses from Braxton documents his encounter with another idiosyncratic, inimitable American musician, Eugene Chadbourne. It’s not inexpensive, but you’ll spend long days pleasureably immersed. Purchase on Bandcamp (where, as I type this, only 17 physical copies remain) gets you a free bonus track otherwise unavailable.

Hands down my favorite recording of 2019, this set lovingly documents Braxton’s Syntactical Ghost Trance Music for vocal ensemble. As I wrote elsewhere, “The collection treats these idiosyncratic and often outright zany pieces with the dignity and respect their creator deserves.”

A deep, deep dive into Braxton’s way with the canon, performed with a fantastic band that included pianist Misha Mengelberg and percussionist Han Bennink. Rather than telling you more about it, I’ll urge you to read the outstanding review-slash-Braxton primer my friend and colleague Seth Colter Walls wrote for Bandcamp.

Two more Braxton albums on Bandcamp that I can’t recommend strongly enough: 3 Compositions (EEMHM) 2011 and 9 Compositions (Iridium) 2006, both on the New Haven-based label Firehouse 12. (I’d embed them, but they’ve resisted doing so.) Both of these sets to me represent Braxton at his grandest and most gloriously ambitious, proposing not only a musical practice, but a utopian model for social interaction based on shared goals and mutual regard. Together, those boxes contain some of the most life-affirming music I know.

Braxton’s most recent recording (to my knowledge, at least) is this gorgeous set of compositions for saxophones and harp, recorded live in Bologna with the harpist Jacqueline Kerrod. The two players partner one another sensitively and surely, with ravishing results.


Further Recommendations

The following list includes signficant music released today for the Bandcamp event, as well as exceptional recordings acquired during recent months.

Muhal Richard Abrams - Celestial Birds

Rena Anakwe/A Space for Sound - Sound Bath Mixtape Vol. 1

Courtney Bryan - Quest for Freedom & This Little Light of Mine

Irreversible Entanglements - Irreversible Live in Italy

M. Lamar & Hunter Hunt-Hendrix - Funeral Doom Spiritual

Laraaji - Sun Piano (coming in July, available now for pre-order)

Nicole Mitchell and Moor Mother - Offering - Live at Le Guess Who

Roscoe Mitchell - Splatter

Moor Mother and Olof Melander - Anthologia 01

Moor Mother - Clepsydra

William Parker - Trencadis

Matthew Shipp - The Piano Equation

Luke Stewart - Birth of a Nation

Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley - Birdland, Neuberg 2011

Still more music worth pursuing, in this Twitter thread by Jonathan Wiliger.


James Bennett II - On Taking Lip (Service) (WQXR)

Tatum Dorrell, Matt Herndon, Jourdan Dorrell - Antiracist Allyship Starter Pack (Google Sheet)

Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe - We Must Breathe (WQXR)

Zoë Madonna - Clarinetist calls on musicians to #taketwoknees for Black lives (Boston Globe)

Will Robin et al - How Can Artists Respond to Injustice? Thoughts from Seven Musicians (NewMusicBox)

Split a Donation Between 70+ Bail Funds, Mutual Aid Funds, and Racial Justice Organizers (ActBlue)


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