Part musical journey, part history lesson and part
tribute, Avery Sharpe’s Sojourner Truth “Ain’t I a Woman?” (JKNM
Records, 2012) does several things well. It entertains, informs and
The liner notes give a brief history of Sojourner Truth’s life and
explains Sharpe’s inspiration for this project. Sharpe plays acoustic
bass and six-string electric bass. The rest of the ensemble consists of
Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Yoron Israel on drums, Craig Handy on
soprano and tenor saxophones, Duane Eubanks on trumpet and flugelhorn
and vocalist Jeri Brown.
“Isabella’s Wakening” is inspired by Truth’s original name, Isabella.
It’s Sharpe’s acknowledgement of her decision to put her life as a slave
behind her and become. Handy’s tenor carries much of the tune, but
Sharpe also thrills with the six-string, which he plays like a guitar.
Eubanks, Gumbs and Israel stretch out quite well in the background.
“Ain’t I a Woman?” is a slow, spiritual piece. Brown recites the
commonly accepted version of Truth’s poetry, a speech given at the Ohio
Women’s Convention in 1851. The group underscores the recital, with
Handy and Eubanks overlapping much of the way, before stepping aside for
piano, bass and drums. One can almost see Truth speaking to the sound of
Brown also sings lead on “Pleading for My People,” a spiritual sang by
Truth in her day, with music composed by Sharpe. With the rhythm section
accompanying her during the verses, the horns provide a subtle layer to
the chorus. Sharpe again breaks out the six-string during the middle
Sharpe, a native of Valdosta, Georgia, attended the University of
Massachusetts, where he played electric bass in various genres, but
later learned the acoustic bass at the encouragement of jazz bassist
Reggie Workman. Over the course of his career, Sharpe has performed or
recorded with many notables, including Art Blakey, McCoy Tyner, Dizzy
Gillespie and Pat Metheny.
Apart from the traditional song, “Motherless Child,” all of the music on
Ain’t I a Woman? is original. Sharpe composed seven songs, including two
which he added to Truth’s lyrics. “Virtuous She Is,” “The Way Home” and
“Catch the Sunset” were penned by Israel, Handy and Gumbs, respectively.