26 August 2006

Enthusiasms (2) - Dave Douglas "Strange Liberation"

In April 1967 Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a famous speech entitled "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" at the Riverside Church in NYC. In it he remarked that: "And as I ponder the madness of Vietnam and search within myself for ways to understand and respond with compassion, my mind goes constantly to the people of that peninsula. I speak now not of the soldiers of each side, not of the junta in Saigon, but simply of the people who have been living under the curse of war for almost three continuous decades now. I think of them too because it is clear to me that there will be no meaningful solution there until some attempt is made to know them and hear their broken cries." He then speculated that the Vietnamese "must see
Americans as strange liberators."

This is the phrase to which the title of trumpeter Dave Douglas's Strange Liberation (Bluebird, 2004) refers. The analogy to our current morass hopefully does not require comment. The CD is terrific. I highly recommend it. Having said that though, I want to quote from the liner notes, where Douglas writes:

"Music speaks. It speaks in its own language differently to each of us. I believe in music as a contribution to the discussion about who we are and where we are headed. This is not a "political" record, but it comes with both love for this country and an uneasy awareness of the current state of justice, fairness and equality.

The unruly thing about music is that it demands its own meanings that are beyond any explanation. You might be able to decipher the nuts and bolts, but in the end, you can’t unscramble the mystery of how music makes you feel.

That’s why I don’t often write about my music. Words can so often obscure the feelings and the sense of music. Music is not an argument, it lives in its own universe and refuses to be pinned down."

I agree with Douglas about music and its unruliness. he has put his finger on what makes music so wonderful. But I disagree with him about politics which, to me consists precisely in an "unruly" discussion, often frank, almost always contested, about "who we are and where we are headed," a discussion where diverse concerns for "justice, fairness and equality" and how those principles might best be embodied in our practices and institutions are paramount. The question is not whether music is political - I find Douglas's denial that his record is political quite perplexing - but how it enters into our collective discussions of such matters. It need not do so didactically or dogmatically. It can do so by arousing emotions, provoking reflection and prompting questions. Those are things Strange Liberation does

PS: If you are interested in a smart essay on jazz & politics see Gene Santoro. "Jazzing Politics" The Nation (17 December 2001) in which he discusses one of Douglas's earlier CDs as well as one by clarinetist Don Byron.

PS#2: UPDATE: Coincidentally, I was out this afternoon with my 14 year old son Jeff - who plays a very mean trumpet himself - and we stopped in to our great local jazz record store The Bop Shop where I bought a brand new Dave Douglas CD Meaning and Mystery (Greenleaf Records, 2006). It too is very, very good (on first & second listens). What I noticed is that Douglas's music publisher is "Noenmity Music." I think that is quite cool.

Labels: , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

just wanted to say - cool post - thanks

27 August, 2006 08:52  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Happy to oblige!

27 August, 2006 12:35  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation - I like the title and the cover art, and it seems like the tunes live up to the packaging too...I agree with your thoughts on the title of the company.

27 August, 2006 19:47  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

No problem, the album really is good; the photographer for the album cover is Todd Weinstein who you can find at: http://www.toddweinstein.com/

27 August, 2006 21:09  

Post a Comment

<< Home