Aug 25, 2020
Gregg August’s latest work could not be more timely. It’s entitled Dialogues on Race, Volume 1 and quite frankly, is there a more important topic for the world to be having a conversation about today? Using his experience as a classical musician, and modern classical composer, he has taken a broad subject and used various musical devices to illuminate this difficult matter. The death of Emmit Till becomes a touchstone for the work, as do poems from African-American writers.
Now available on CD and double-vinyl LP as well as digitally via Iacuessa Records, Dialogues on Race is an album a decade in the making, the original evening-length suite having been commissioned by the Jerome Foundation and New York’s Jazz Gallery for a powerful 2009 premiere. August gradually refined the dozen pieces of Dialogues on Race for the subsequent recording sessions and assembled an ideal cast of voices: singers Frank Lacy , Shelley Washington and Forest Van Dyke , along with narrator Wayne Smith . The main poetic inspiration for Dialogues on Race was Marilyn Nelson’s “Your Only Child,” in which she compares the suffering of Mamie Till to Mary, Mother of Christ. August’s melody for that poem winds through the entire suite, including three different versions of that song: one sung by Lacy in a jazz style, another voiced by Washington in a reverential context and a third in an album-concluding instrumental rendition with August on solo arco bass.
August wisely brought in some first call musicians to support the work, including JD Allen, (saxophone), John Bailey (trumpet), John Ellis (soprano saxophone), Rafi Malkiel (trombone) and Luis Perdomo (piano), along, with the Latin percussion of Mauricio Herrera and hard-grooving drums of Donald Edwards. On the otherworldly “Mamie’s Reflections,” the album also features the moving voice of Emmett Till’s mother reflecting on the infamous 1955 lynching of her son in Mississippi, her recollections set to a collective improvisation with bass clarinet, tuba and the visceral undertow of August’s arco bass.
Gregg has been tabbed a Rising Star on bass in the DownBeat Critics Poll in 2017, 2015 and 2013. He has performed widely as a member of the JD Allen Trio, recording nine acclaimed albums with the group, as well as working extensively with Arturo O’Farrill’s Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra, including five Grammy-winning recordings. He is on faculty at New York University and the University of Connecticut, as well as the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival.
Podcast 760 is a deep dive into the marking of Dialogues on Race and includes musical selections, including “Your Only Child (first statement, male singer)” featuring the vocals of Frank Lacy, and “Sherbet (Just to be certain that the doubt stays on our side of the fence)” which kicks off the album.