word meets the ivory as Eric Mingus joins forces with David Amram, Larry
Simon and an assortment of session musicians. Langston Hughes: The
Dream Keeper (Mode Records, 2017) presents the American
poet/novelist/activist/playwright’s words in musical form.
players are Mingus, vocals; Amram, piano; and Simon, guitar and music
director. Additional players on “The Dream Keeper” and “In Time of Silver
Rain”: Don Davis, alto sax, contra-alto clarinet; Catherine Sikora,
soprano sax; Cynthia Chatis, Native American flute; Scip Gallant, Hammond
organ; Chris Stambaugh, bass; Mike Barron, drums; Shawn Russell and Frank
Laurino, percussion. On “Daybreak in Alabama”: Sikora, soprano sax;
Barron, drums; Russell and Laurino, percussion. Democracy has Davis again
on contra-alto sax; Sikora on soprano; and Cynthia Chatis, flute. Simon’s
only appearance is on “Border Line.” And Gallant comes back on Hammond
organ for “Railroad Avenue.”
Mingus speaks briefly to start “The
Dreamer.” The organ steps in, followed by other instruments, creating a
haunting soundscape. After the instruments set the mood, Mingus recites
again. “Bring me all your dreams,” he says. Davis’ contra-alto emerges for
a meandering solo. Chatis follows and closes out the track.
Time of Silver Rain” is the most swinging title, with the musicians
playing an upbeat soundtrack. After Mingus completes the poem, Davis cuts
loose on the alto sax, interrupted briefly by the organ.
closes with a Mingus/Amram duet, “Life is Fine.” Mingus begins singing the
lyrics. When he goes to spoken word, it’s part poetic, part sermon.
Some of the tracks are dark musically, reflective of the theme of the
poems recited by Mingus. Six of the 12 tracks feature only Mingus and
Amram. The project came from Simon, who is co-founder of JazzMouth, a
festival in Porstmouth, New Hampshire that features jazz, spontaneous
music and readings by poets.
Hughes’ poetry is topical for almost
any era, even today. His words have inspired many musicians, including
several jazz artists.
Mingus is son of Charles Mingus. He spent
several years as session musician and background vocalist, having
performed with Bobby McFerrin and others. Other notable associations
include the Charles Mingus Big Band, Todd Rundgren, Elvis Costello and