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Listening to Unheard Language

It is perpetual, the struggle for recognition by Black Americans and all who relate to minority status within this country. The crux of the matter is that minorities long to be heard in their original tongue. It is a means to establish their identity. How often their natural language can be found in their original music, historically the music for which they are known but through which they are not heard, perhaps only taken for granted.

At the last Solos and Duos concert of the UMass/Amherst series, Oliver Lake and Mary Redhouse paired up to expose quintessential revelations about both vocal and instrumental musical language and how each can be placed in the same stream and realized as equal and having the same intention.

The voice capacity of Redhouse is wide. From the guttural and deep bass, which one could mistake for instrumental tones, to a high-pitched shriek, Redhouse painted both abstract and naturalistic pictures. She stood on stage in her Native dress to the right of Oliver Lake, who played in complete balance with his partner and with energetic clarity, either the alto or a soprano saxophone or simply on a wooden flute.

The general temperament of the concert was even. There were very few "grooves." Achievement of Grooves was not the objective---the expression of the musical language was.

The overriding temperament rose from the delicate, yet, strong character of Redhouse. She was extraordinarily peaceful. She cast on the audience a sense of calm, particularly when she used her "vocables" to shape an imagination of nature. The visual imagery evoked could have been stunning blue skies and waters rippling over rocks in a river. When she chanted, the round rhythmic melodic mainstay of the chant fell in and out of a relaxed shifting, from deep bass to falsetto tones. The elasticity of her voice indicated the flexibility of her throat; the shape of her mouth altered the projection of sound. The elasticity of Redhouse’s voice demonstrated no less instrumentality than the horns which Lake played. Basically, she conversed with the horn. How the meaning of the conversation was derived was a matter of association between the words and the music, a matter of concentrating on the spirit and the incentive embedded in the conversation’s evolution.

Lake’s playing bordered on the talkative. It was spry, rife with reed and air vocabulary, and extremely relaxed. Lake carefully attended to the volume that his horn exuded; he had no intention of overcoming Redhouse even though his horns had the capacity to do so. His arpeggios, runs and repeated two-note climbs were tightly integrated into Redhouse’s vocalizations. When his volume did rise and Lake did open up, Redhouse accompanied with taps of her fingertips or a brush to a small tight drum skin, or with a shaking of bells. The sometimes prevalent flatness of Redhouse’s voice was completed with a certain roundness in Lake’s blowing. When Lake played by himself, the short notes he produced moved persistently from jagged to smooth in a distinct line of abstraction, in a multiplicity of swooping, pressing the notes, splitting the tones-in effect, creating coherence with minimal structure. That is what maintained the horn’s similitude to words and also gave easy entrance to Lake’s actually speaking them.

Lake stepped up to the plate with his poetry, which invested an extended significance to the pairing of the duo. He spoke in an unexpectedly non-musical meter to the subject of Racial Equality in a group of poems he composed. The poetry broke out in direct & sometimes rhythmically uttered plaintive messages, relating to both general and specific inequities within a culture that houses multi-ethnic peoples midst the reigning White Man.

The poetry put a face to that still unheard language of solidarity and willfulness for unity. And despite the striking difference in educational, occupational and financial status among the people who constitute the minorities facing these inequities within global culture, the common thread through all is the music. This is, was and shall be, the point.

Listen to the music. It comes in many forms. It may be hidden but is nonetheless there. You can and do find it. You can and do hear it you do love it but are you listening? Are you?

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Oliver Lake and Mary Redhouse
  • Concert Date: 12/8/2005
  • Venue: Bezanson Recital Hall, UMass
  • City State Country: Amherst, MA
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