AMIRI BARAKA REMEMBERED IN HARLEM

Poet, playwright and political dissident Amiri Baraka (né Leroi Jones), who died Jan. 9th in Newark at the age of 79, was remembered in fine fashion with an evening of poetry, oratory and performance at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture (Feb. 8th). Along with speakers too numerous to mention, the long night included short sets by Baraka’s band Blue Ark (with pianist Adegoke Steve Colson) and a trio led by trombonist Craig Harris, who played the kind of music that fueled Baraka – exploratory, expository, transcendent, ever reaching. Harris grew slowly more fervent, pulling the pianist Donald Smith and bassist Calvin Jones behind him and then set a quick rhythm of triplets, which the pianist and bassist picked up on just as quickly. He worked that back into another ebullient theme but it was a slamming, Latin tinged piano solo that drew the most audience response.Following Harris’ solo, when the bassist returned to the triplet theme, it was hard not to think of it as a free march, a freedom march freely improvised for a man whose walk along this particular path had ended. Later,in the midst of a recitation of Baraka’s “Am”, an  incendiary proto-rap revolving around references to John Coltrane and the repeated line “The victory is yours if you want it”, Umar Bin Hassan of the Last Poets forcefully intoned, “My country ‘tis of thee, land of soprano saxophones and unwritten poems.” It was hard to not think of the lines Baraka will not be writing. (KG) MARCH 2014 | THE NEW YORK CITY JAZZ RECORD