The Omni-American Book Club (Hollistic MusicWorks)
Brian Lynch Big Band
Released August 29, 2019
Grammy Award for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album 2020
Grammy Award-winning trumpeter and recording artist Brian Lynch presents one of his most ambitious projects to date: The Omni-American Book Club. This expansive album of music for large ensemble connects Lynch’s lifelong passion for reading and the books that have shaped his life with his original music.
The books that have shaped Lynch’s consciousness, and thus his music, have been myriad, and his dedications for the music of The Omni-American Book Club reflect both the diversity and the focus of his reading interests. Alongside a strong emphasis on the work of African-American writers and writing on African-American culture, both classic and contemporary, Lynch’s reading interests range widely in the area of social consciousness and social justice.
The nine compositions that make up The Omni-American Book Club offer a panoramic view of Lynch’s world as composer, arranger and trumpet soloist in his first big band recording as a leader. With the help of all-star cast of special guests, Lynch’s pieces blend Afro-Caribbean jazz and straight-ahead swingers with hints of hip hop, funk, bossa nova and even trap music to reveal the most realized and accomplished expression of his vision as a composer to date. Brought to fruition by a stellar big band comprised of Lynch’s teaching colleagues, students and alumni of The Frost School Of Music, University Of Miami, along with a selection of world class musicians from the Miami area and outstanding special guests, this album is a feast for the ears and a sonic delight.
Track By Track by Brian Lynch:
Crucible For Crisis
I love reading history and I have probably read more history-related books, including biographies, than any other kind. David Levering Lewis is an African-American historian whose work has informed and beguiled me ever since I encountered The Race To Fashoda, his fascinating account of the rivalry of European powers in the Sudan amidst the “scramble for Africa” at the end of the 19th century. Both Fashoda and the later God’s Crucible are examples of Levering Lewis’s talent for narrating events and epochs in world history from a more informed, postEurocentric perspective. Levering-Lewis’s multi-volume study of W.E.B DuBois (winner of two Pulitzer Prizes for biography) is not only a defnitive life of this towering writer, philosopher and activist but a veritable history of African-American intellectual life from Reconstruction to the 1960s, the century of DuBois’s long life. Reading Levering Lewis’s biographies of DuBois brought me back to the work of the great man himself and a renewed appreciation of the importance of his thought. Crucible For Crisis salutes the works of both authors by combining the title of Levering Lewis’s book with the name of the NAACP’s journal The Crisis, founded by DuBois in 1910 and edited by him for many years thereafter.
The Struggle Is In Your Name
The dedication for this piece pairs the writer who inspired this project with one whose work I think is among the most important of our time. Not only doesTa-Nehisi Coates bring outraged clarity to the present state of the “American dilemma” – the culpability and hypocrisy baked into the DNA of a country that exemplifes freedom but was built and even now sustained by enslaved bodies – and he does so with compelling writing of the highest quality and style. His is the authoritative voice of the present era in what we call America, to my reckoning. The title of this piece comes from a sentence in Coates’s Between The World And Me.
The dedication here is to two writer whose histories have informed and shaped my thinking over the years. My friend Ned Sublette’s gift for reseach, synthesis and the placing of events in absorbing cultural context is demonstrated to great effect in his Cuba and Its Music. And his more recent The American Slave Coast, co-written with his wife Constance Sublette, is a definitive account of how the wealth of America grew from enslaved bodies.
Eric Hobsawm, the English independent Marxist historian, has been one of my favorite writers for many years. His series of histories about the “nineteenth century” between 1789 and 1914 (the era between the French Revolution and the First World War) are exemplars of trenchant analysis as well as of brilliant writing. Ha was also a committed aficionado of jazz music, writing of it knowingly and affectively.
The Trouble With Elysium
Two books that upended my world during the first decade of the new millennium were Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise Of Disaster Capitalism and Mike Davis’s Planet of Slums. Klein’s gripping book is an account of how economic theory, turned into policy both public and private, has fueled inequality and a radical rollback of egalitarianism throughout the world over the last half century. Filling in another aspect of our present plight. Davis’s book explains in exhaustive and horrifying detail how a great deal of the inhabitants of our planet now live, with an implication that the contingency of the global poor’s lives cannot but extended to us as the world careens towards environmental disaster. Taken together, theses books make it all too easy to envision a near future such as depicted in the movie Elysium, where the affluent few live in a giant space station – while the vast majority of humanity is left to a squalid, poisoned existence on a spoiled Earth.
Inevitability And Eternity
The assault on truth and the effcacy of nationalist ideology in the service of kleptocracy – these are shared themes in the work of these two brilliant writers and public intellectuals. Gessen’s absorbing The Future Is History is a chronicle of an opening and closing again of possibility in post Soviet Union Russia, written as the stories of individuals negotiating the rapidly shifting ground under their feet. Gessen is a Russian emigre to the USA who is all too aware of the implications of their experiences for the citizens of her adopted land. Snyder is a historian with a towering knowledge of Eastern European and Russian history, and a writer of passionate empathy and humanity. His The Road To Unfreedom: Russia, America, Europe is a clarion call for today’s world, connecting current events to historical antecedents and making evident the clear, present and plentiful danger. These books are both indispensable in explaining the pickle we are in as of the date of my writing these words.
Tribute To Blue (Mitchell)
For this composition, named for a legendary jazz trumpeter, the dedication references two writers of different generations whose work has touched me deeply. Isabel Wilkerson’s achievement in The Warmth Of Other Suns is to make the Great Migration – the epochal movement of African-Americans to the North during the 20th century – become vivid in the mind of the reader, through a skillful weaving of personal histories into a gripping narrative.The children of the Great Migration were my teachers and mentors when I was growing up in Milwaukee and coming into the music, and I recognized much, and learned much more, about their strength, perseverance and courage in the pages of Wilkerson’s book. Blue Mitchell’s own journey from Miami, Florida to NewYork City and Los Angeles to fulfll his destiny as a great musician is one of the millions of stories of this migration. Reading Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man in high school was a crucial experience for me in impelling my consciousness of African-American and Omni-American thought. If there ever was an “Great American Novel”, (the Holy Grail for mid-20th century American writers), Invisible Man was it! Ellison’s essays and other writings have been constant companions for me over the years, read over and over again for their lucidity, elegance of style, and ideas. Ralph Ellison and Albert Murray were close friends and intellectual colleagues, and their letters to each other (many of them published in the Ellison collection Living With Music) are fascinating and quite illuminating of the way each infuenced the other’s work. I turn to both Ellison and Murray frequently in these days for succor, turning to old friends whilst reading with new eyes of a vision for America that inspired me almost a half century ago.
The dedications here are for two very different writers, of very different areas of inquiry linked for me by the theme of vulnerability. Brené Brown’s work on vulnerability, along with related concepts such as shame resilience, empathy, and courage, has become very important in my life as I grow towards my elder years. I rarely read “best-sellers”, or anything that even remotely smacks of “self-help”, but this is different – Brown’s work, grounded in solid research and her own facility in translating it into clear and actionable messaging, gave me renewed hope for my personal liberation from the servitude of “not being good enough”. Vulnerability and courage are, to me, also important subtexts in the work of historian Nell Irvin Painter’s The History Of White People. This book is an exegesis of how an ideology of “whiteness” developed hand in hand with slavery, and a chronicle of whiteness’s rise, reign, and hopefully, fall. Coming away from reading this history, one realizes how artifcial, self-serving (to the powers that be) and cooked-up the whole concept of whiteness is; asTa-Nehisi Coates often terms it in his own work, it’s all about plunder. For a thoughtful benefciary of the skin lottery, reading Irvin Painter’s book may result in a personal engagement with both vulnerability – opening up oneself to the inconvenient truth that all of us white folks participate in the plunder – and courage; to confront our privilege and actively fnd pathways away from it.
Africa My Land
The 6/8 bell pattern that is the rhythmic underpinning of this composition is employed throughout a wide swath of West Africa, including Nigeria, the homeland of novelist Chinua Achebe. His classic Things Fall Apart, a landmark of 20th century literature, was the book that frst exposed me to the voice of African authors. Achebe’s prose is clear and precise, severe in its economy yet exquisite in its quiet sense of feeling. His sensibility affects me deeply. The writings of the eminent scholar of Afro-disaporic culture Robert FarrisThompson have been consistently entertaining and informative companions for me over the years. His books Flash Of The Spirit, African Art In Motion, and the anthology Aesthetic of the Cool: Afro-Atlantic Art and Music are all reliable guides to the cultural interconnectivity of what Farris Thompson calls the “black Atlantic”; an physical and cultural area that stretches from West Africa to Cuba and Brazil, the Caribbean and even NewYork City. Farris Thompson is a brilliant theoretician of the groove in all its forms, from sound and movement to pattern and even personal bearing.
The final composition of this collection pays tribute to two writers that really lift my fire as a neophyte to the music and its culture. New Yorker film critic Richard Brody, in his appreciation of Baraka’s work after his passing in 2014, described in detail how Baraka’s work in the collection Black Music inspired him as a 15 year old aficionado of the jazz avant garde; indeed Brody reveals that Baraka’s essays and journalism in that volume “…definitely set for me the template for critical writing and engagement”. I was stunned. This was exactly the same experience I had, and at the same age (Brody and I are rough contemporaries). Brody writes of how Baraka “…wrote with ecstasy – highly informed and intricate – about ecstatically complex music. He also revealed literary and philosophical substance in it that gave form to my inchoate experience.” I couldn’t have described my own experience with Baraka’s work better. His writing, a virtuoso high wire performance codifying the crucial importance of the project of black music, changed my life. It’s very fitting that the big band rendering of my composition Woody Shaw, named for the groundbreaking trumpeter and fellow Newark native (Baraka wrote the liner notes for Shaw’s 1979 album Woody III) is dedicated to Baraka. Another important book from that teenage time of discovery was A.B. Spellman’s Black Music: Four Lives (also called Four Lives In The Bebop Business). Where Baraka was high-flying, heaping riveting images into ski runs of dizzying verbiage, Spellman was stripped down and reportorial with the subjects of his four lives (Herbie Nichols, Jackie McLean, Ornette Coleman and Cecil Taylor) letting their individual voices fully resonate as they explain their lives and music. All the same, Spellman’s own thoughts on those giants’a art and the challenges of making it in a society leveraged against their creativity and humanity made just as strong of an impression on me.
1. Crucible For Crisis 12:07
for David Levering Lewis and W.E.B. DuBois
2. The Struggle Is In Your Name 8:59
for Ta-Nehisi Coates and Albert Murray
3. Affectivelong Affinities 8:04
for Ned Sublette and Eric Hobsbawm
4. The Trouble With Elysium 13:32
for Naomi Klein and Mike Davis
5. Inevitability And Eternity 10:05
for Timothy Snyder and Masha Gessen
6. Tribute To Blue (Mitchell) 8:33
for Isabel Wilkerson and Ralph Ellison
7. Opening Up 10:14
for Nell Irvin Painter and Brené Brown
8. Africa My Land 11:09
for Chinua Achebe and Robert Farris Thompson
9. Woody Shaw 8:44
for Amiri Baraka and A.B. Spellman
10. The Struggle Is In Your Name (extended version) 12:24
11. Woody Shaw (extended version) 12:11
Brian Lynch: leader, composer, arranger, trumpet
Tom Kelley: alto, soprano sax, flute
David Leon: alto sax, flute, clarinet
Gary Keller: tenor, soprano sax, flute, clarinet
Chris Thompson-Taylor: tenor sax, clarinet
Mike Brignola: baritone sax, bass clarinet
Dante Luciani: trombone
Carter Key: trombone
Steven Robinson: trombone
John Kricker: bass trombone
Michael Dudley: trumpet
Jean Caze: trumpet
Jason Charos: trumpet
Alec Aldred: trumpet
Alex Brown: piano
Lowell Ringel: bass
Boris Kozlov: electric bass
Kyle Swan: drums (2, 4, 6, 9, 10, 11)
Hilario Bell: drums (3, 5, 7, 8)
Murph Aucamp: percussion
Little Johnny Rivero: percussion (5, 8)
Dafnis Prieto: drums (1)
Orlando “Maraca” Valle: flute (1)
Donald Harrison: alto sax (2, 10)
Regina Carter: violin (3)
David Liebman: soprano sax (4) Jim Snidero: alto sax (6)
Recorded May 2019 at The L. Austin Weeks Center for Recording and Performance, Frost School Of Music, Coral Gables, FL
Recording Engineer: Chris Palowitch
Additional Recording: Red Rock Studio, Saylorsburg, PA (Kent Heckman, engineer); P.M. Records Studio, Havana, Cuba (Betty Hernandez Vidal, engineer); Hollistic MusicWorks Studio, Miami, FL (Brian Lynch, engineer); Bass Hit Studio, NYC, NY (David Darlington, engineer); Audio Beast Studio, Elizabeth, NJ (Erik Piza, engineer) Esplanade Studios, New Orleans, LA (Misha Kachkachishvili, engineer)
Mixing and Mastering: David Darlington
Artwork: Robin D. Williams
Design: Jamie Breiwick, B Side Graphics
Produced by Kabir Sehgal and Doug Davis
Aside from being a multi-award-winning trumpeter and composer, Brian Lynch appears to be an avid reader and social arbiter as well. His twenty-third album as leader, a two-CD set whose protracted and austere name, The Omni-American Book Club / My Journey Through Literature in Music, belies its bold and free-hearted nature, is dedicated to a number of writers, most in the realms of equity and civil rights, who have quickened Lynch’s inquiring mind and shaped his bright and perceptive music.
Even so, Lynch has eschewed polemics and produced instead a series of enterprising and resourceful jazz themes whose eloquence and charm should by all rights cast aside longstanding barriers and earn the respect and admiration of even the most narrow-minded disputant. To help do so, he has enhanced his already exemplary ensemble with a veritable who’s-who of celebrated guest artists including saxophonists Donald Harrison, David Liebman and Jim Snidero; drummer Dafnis Prieto, flutist Orlando “Maraca” Valle and violinist Regina Carter, each of whom helps raise the album from the sphere of “far better than average” to “somewhere approaching masterpiece.” Much as their presence lends weight, however, it is Lynch’s stellar compositions and arrangements that prove inherently decisive. To be concise, there’s not a blemish in the bunch, nor a clinker in the chorus. In other words, it’s no longer a secret that Lynch writes about as well as he plays, which is sublime by any measure. His songs are handsome and smart, tasteful and swinging, precisely what is needed to help a big band enkindle the mind and enrapture the heart.
Disc 1 encompasses half a dozen tracks, each of which is a gem. Prieto and Valle are showcased on the stalwart opener, “Crucible for Crisis,” Harrison on “The Struggle Is in Your Name,” Carter on “Affective Affinities,” Liebman (and tenor Gary Keller) on “The Trouble with Elysium.” The band has “Inevitability and Eternity” to itself before Snidero arrives to place his special imprint on Lynch’s lyrical “Tribute to Blue (Mitchell).” There’s a second homage on Disc 2, this one to the late trumpeter “Woody Shaw,” one of two essays whose “extended versions” close that disc (the other is “The Struggle Is in Your Name”). Alto David Leon and drummer Kyle Swan are front and center on the shorter reading of “Woody Shaw,” trumpeter Jean Caze and percussionist Murph Aucamp (on congas) on the longer version. For his part, Lynch solos on every number, always with his trademark creativity and taste, never upstaging anyone even as he reminds one and all they’ll have to stay on their toes to keep pace with his impressive artistry.
As noted, each of Lynch’s songs was composed with a recipient or two in mind, writers with whom he feels a special kinship and admires for their outspoken allegiance to the concepts of universal brotherhood and equal rights under the law for everyone. Some of the names are fairly well-known (W.E.B. DuBois, Ta-Nehesi Coates, Naomi Klein, Ralph Ellison, Amiri Baraka, A.B. Spellman), others rather less so (David Levering Lewis, Ned Sublette, Eric Hobsbawm, Mike Davis, Timothy Snyder, Masha Gessen, Isabel Wilkerson, Nell Irvin Painter, Brene Brown, Chinua Achebe, Robert Farris Thompson). And then there’s Albert Murray, the writer and critic who, Lynch writes, inspired the enterprise. All told, that’s quite an impressive assembly.
As a paradigm of Lynch’s level-headed assessment of the world in which we live, The Omni-American Book Club is superb; as a repository of emphatic, straight-from-the-heart big-band jazz, it’s even better.
Jack Bowers (AllThatJazz)