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Howard Wiley: Angola Project

Inspired by field recordings of inmates at Louisiana’s Angola Prison, Howard Wiley’s Angola Project recreates their rustic folk sound. Yet the tenor saxophonist’s craftsmanship is also on display, generating a tension that defines the album as much as the subject does. It’s a superb achievement. Gospel is the dominant motif: Four of 10 tracks are spirituals, and nearly all arrangements draw on the church, as do Wiley’s compositions. His “Angola” and “The Conversation” feature moaning female voices (Jeannine Anderson) and gently rocking rhythms behind his sax’s-and, on “Angola,” David Murray’s-cathartic wails, sounding like a loose Pentecostal choir. Indeed, Wiley’s playing is “folk” in the manner of Ornette Coleman’s: prizing instinct over technique, blowing pure emotion despite harmony or form. (Wiley amplifies his obvious debt by including Coleman’s “Peace.”)

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