Lost Chords and Serenades Divine #7 by Stephen McClurg
Angles 9: Disappeared Behind the Sun (2017)
If someone has been escaping reality, I don’t expect him to dig my music, and I would begin to worry about my writing if such a person began to really like it. My music is alive and it’s about the living and the dead, about good and evil. It’s angry, yet it’s real because it knows it’s angry.
My first notions of music as political and social commentary grew out of seeing the once omnipresent TV commercials for Time-Life box sets. I mostly remember boomer nostalgic over the music of the ‘60s. This was all vocal music, stuff like “Give Peace a Chance” or “Fortunate Son,” with the exception of Hendrix’s jagged take on “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Was it protest? Or drugs and distortion?
I’ve heard arguments about the beauty or crassness of that moment, but it’s not often that instrumental music, unless nationalistic, evokes much commentary, at least in the world in which I’ve grown up. There are stories of people walking out, hissing, or being generally disgusted over the third movement of Mahler’s first symphony when he turned a children’s song into a death march in 1889. Stravinsky caused a riot with the premiere of “The Rite of Spring” in 1913, though the intensity of the disturbances in both of these cases seems to grow and get mythologized over the decades. Ornette Coleman was bullied by other jazz artists and had his head shaved by police–for being different and playing differently.
“Blues People” by LeRoi Jones (later Amiri Baraka) opened me up to ways of hearing politics in instrumental music. For example, he reads bebop drummers as engaging particularly African approaches to rhythm and polyrhythms as a rejection of the swing style that had been a part of many of the large, mostly white, big bands.
There has been an openly progressive and protest movement within the large group improvising tradition. The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) has been known for its avant-garde creativity and has been a rich ground for African American and other artists of color. Similarly in Europe, the Globe Unity Orchestra wanted to unite players from around the world in a large free jazz ensemble. Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra made pointed protests against America’s involvement in Vietnam. Maybe Sun Ra created his own universe, through the Arkestra, in order to break free and comment on the one Herman Blount was born into.
My assumption is that Angles 9 is working in this tradition of free jazz ensemble with “Disappeared Behind the Sun.” The title of the record is a translation of an Iranian phrase that is meant to describe people who are detained by governments, but not formally arrested or tried, and never come back. The music is born out of frustrations and the complicated emotions of difficult political climates. This music shrieks in protest and howls affirmations. It rocks and swings, cries and punches, laments and screams.
“Equality & Death (Mothers, Fathers, Where Are Ye?)” opens with free sax playing, an expected sound for a record like this. But the drums come in and drive the track using a variation of the Motown rhythm, a snare hit on each down beat, often played by Uriel Jones, which is unexpected and propels the track. It’s one of my favorite recordings I’ve heard this year. Andreas Werliin’s drum sound is dynamic, with a bass tone at times wonderfully cavernous–likely a large marching drum. His use of tonal colors with cymbals and slight altering of rhythms with the same beats, creates interesting alternating textures throughout each tracks.
Along with the sensibilities of a free jazz ensemble, Angles 9 mixes in the sounds of Balkan brass and occasionally New Orleans second line marching bands and funk grooves. A few of the tracks echo elements of the late 60s’ Coltrane groups, particularly the Jimmy Garrison bass ostinatos. But regardless of influences, Angles 9 is making a music that is beneficially filling and fulfilling: a music for the body and mind, heart and soul.
You can hear the recording and purchase it from Clean Feed Records.
Stephen McClurg (Episode 24) writes and teaches in Birmingham, Alabama. He co-hosts The Outrider Podcast, writes at Eunoia Solstice, and infrequently blogs. He has contributed music as a solo artist and with the group Necronomikids to past episodes of The Drunken Odyssey.