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Glenn Spearman: Blues for Falasha

The son of an African-American father and Jewish mother, it is logical that Glenn Spearman focused on the Jews of Ethiopia, the Falasha, for this project in John Zorn’s Radical Jewish Culture series. As Larry Ochs points out in the notes, Spearman was usually an extremely extroverted blower, one of the great torch-bearers of the post-Ayler tradition. But the darkness of Blues for Falasha makes it impossible not to think of composers like Berg whose last works were unintended auto-requiems. The music begins as slowly-developing group understatement, somewhat reminiscent of “People in Sorrow” or “Afternoon of a Georgia Faun” but more anxious. Certainly Spearman and Ochs get their horns cranked up before it’s over, but the music builds by such imperceptible degrees that the feeling of uneasy restraint pervades even at the most intense moments, largely owing to the beautifully cohesive work of pianist Chris Brown, bassist Lisle Ellis, and drummers Donald Robinson and Willie Winant. The instrumentation and some of the writing evoke Jones-Ali-period Trane, but the rhythm team here actually works better. I only wish we could hear a follow-up.

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