Max Roach. Abbey Lincoln, Billie Holiday, Charlie Haden, Sonny Rollins, Trane, Archie Shepp, Mingus,The Liberation Music Orchestra. Freedom Suite, American Dreams, Freedom Now! Fables of Faubus, Don't Let It Happen Here, Alabama, Strange Fruit. Louis Armstrong refusing to participate in a State Department trip to the Soviet Union. A March 2003 "Jazz Talk" on Jazz and Social Protest sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center! Protest and liberation were never simply the province of the singer/songwriters of the sixties."Goodbye Swingtime," is clearly within the jazz tradition but as new as today.
Matthew Herbert is a British producer and a pioneer in the use of sound sampling for big bands. His last album, as Radio Boy, was "The Mechanics of Destruction." In collaboration with arranger Pete Wraight, he has integrated orchestra, sounds, and vocals in one of the most creative uses of the big band in my experience. It also won't be everyone's cup of tea, but then protest never is.
Herbert's own description of his approach to one of the songs, "The Three W's,"speaks to the CD as a whole. "It is in this last piece that I have realised my most complete vision of how modern music should sit. In its first instance it is a protest song. In its second instance, it is a carefully crafted, scored and recorded big band piece. In its third instance, it is a contemporary piece of music, processing those recordings with technology only available in the last two years. In its fourth and most important instance it uses sound for explicitly political purposes."
In preparing this review it became clear that one cannot just listen. The music, augmented by the sounds, will indeed produce a mood. The lyrics will tell a story. However, the lyrics may be abstract and there are always nuances that deserve more than one reading. As for the sounds, knowledge of their sources will amplify your understanding of the story. For example, the samples of printing and typing on "The Three W's" relate to a specific web site depicting US government involvement with Latin American dictators. Many songs utilize percussive effects created through the unusual use of books by relevant authors,among them, Noah Chomsky, Michael Moore and Scott Ritter.Fortunately the album includes the lyrics, a complete list of sound sources, and a wealth of technical detail.
This first-rate band has been to Montreaux and contains some of England's top jazz players. Solos were few but exciting, particularly on the catchy"Misprints." The most hard-driving swing was to be found in the midst of "The Battle." I was particularly moved by the opening "Turning Pages"- a somber march to where? - and Jamie Lidell's vocal on "Everything's Changed." Chromoshop takes you in lockstep through an instantly recognizable supermarket where you will be exposed to "not what I want, not what I need, not what I wanted at all." Then there's the power of the lyrics of "The Three W's", "ears should be burning, we should be learning this, here people start, hear people end." "Stationary" shows the full warmth of the orchestra. Perhaps there's hope.
This reviewer, a survivor of the Big Band era with liberal tastes in music and politics, found Matthew Herbert's work enlightening on many levels.