I listened to Harriet Tubman’s latest album again — it’s crazy Deep Space Blackout, where the all-so-dope trio sees our Colson Whitehead and raises it with an ion thruster. Spaceways, Inc. is smiling all the way from Saturn. I’ve also been getting my sway on with a dancefloor-friendly release of vintage Metal, blended into Afrobeat.
I’ve always felt — with no intended disrespect to the beloved protest hymns in current rotation — that a reimagined freedom soundtrack is due.
So listening to Araminta multiple times had me wondering if Harriet Tubman’s been harboring similar thoughts.
Blacknuss to the future was all but assured with the power trio of bassist Melvin Gibbs, drummer JT Lewis and guitarist Brandon Ross leading the journey, but the addition of award-winning trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith accomplishes something I didn’t think was possible: the music is more powerful and nuanced than ever.
Araminta connects the diasporic styles of Rock, Blues, Jazz, Dub and Electronica, sharing the stories of struggle that need to be told — and without compromise.
Through adventurous sonic prose, the band screams, visualizes and whispers “freedom” all at once, from the blistering improvisational interplay to the tracks’ titles. Shoot, the album title came from the birth name of arguably the most famous antebellum freedom fighter in history.
Araminta’s brilliance also comes from the way it shuns the common, transactional view of history in favor of drawing a time continuum of events and icons like Selma, Chester Himes, Nina Simone, the band’s namesake, slavery and even former President Barack Obama, all the while launching their dense musical approach from the dual foundations of Blues and Free Jazz.
Electronic invocations of Hendrix, Miles, Chicago Blues and the band’s own explosive style flow through each other to assemble a single fist in salute to ancestors, the living, and seed who may someday yearn to be free.
While this isn’t a formal album review and I don’t officially publish best-of-the-year posts, I’ll still say that Harriet Tubman turned in one of the best releases of 2017.
Here Lies Man
Let’s start by dealing with the risk bands flirt with they infuse any form of West African music with other styles: creating corny-azz gimmicks.
Too many bands fail to respect the clave in these instances …
Put another way, how in the hell can you breed offspring with their Mutha and not appear ridiculous?
And I think this is one of the reasons why Here Lies Man works well — the 70s Metal guitar and Psychedelic haze the group brings to global African Roots music comes from a place of respect.
The result is an audio chemistry experiment where you’re listening to the difference between compounds, mixtures or something much worse than the latter.
Africa hasn’t created distant daughters and sons, y’know.
Here Lies Man completely gets the idea that an over-the-top effort is not required to sound genuine or achieve organic fusion.
They simply respect the clave.
The songs — where I’ll admit their riffs are stretched to the limit at times — are meant for dance floors. The furious rhythm section sees to that. Keyboard phrasing supports Afrobeat integrity, while Marcos Garcia (Antibalas) turns in some interesting vocal work. The underlying Funk remains a constant.