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Adegoke Steve Colson: Tones For

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On Adegoke Steve Colson’s first album of solo piano, the title refers to three historical figures that inspired the music: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass. To mark the 150th anniversary of the end of the Civil War (and the 50th anniversary of the start of the AACM, of which he is a member), Colson has created a two-disc set of compositions and improvisations that attempt to capture in music the work and writing of these trailblazers. It’s a far-reaching set, marked by both the struggles that these figures engaged in and the determination that drove them.

Colson explains in the notes that Tubman’s life serves as the overriding storyline here, and her legacy shapes most of the tracks on the first disc. The title “We Saw the Lightning” comes from her observation of Civil War battlefields, and that track features some of the wilder moments of the project’s first half. Colson uses Tubman’s iconic assessment of mental enslavement as the basis for the more meditative “A Thousand More, If Only They Knew,” while “I Didn’t Know” goes further, sounding like a more traditional ballad. The first disc’s 11 tracks flow together like a suite. With the exception of the latter piece, there aren’t typically theme-and-variation movements that are easy to latch onto. The whole performance, at 44 minutes, stays in one place just long enough to establish a thought before moving to the next idea.

On the other hand, disc two has five tracks, all distinct from one another. “When the Gold Was for Dusting Our Eyebrows” moves at a relaxed pace for 16 minutes, meandering a little, perhaps, but Colson’s angularity and rolling chords maintain a narrative feeling throughout. “Friendship” brings the focus back to modern times, reflecting on friends that have passed in recent years. The closing “The Torch Still Burns” serves as a reminder that the crusades of Tubman, Truth and Douglass have yet to be resolved. “In being ‘summoned’ or ‘called’ to their mission, these three were always for change and transformation, not for hate or cruel retributions,” Colson explains. The same can be said of the music in this set. While there are turbulent moments, those sections are more often balanced by feelings of earnestness and hope. The momentum occasionally softens; the focus of the story does not.

Originally Published