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Bobby Watson & the “I Have a Dream” Project: Check Cashing Day

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Bobby Watson may seem an unlikely firebrand, but that doesn’t mean he lacks political consciousness. The veteran alto saxophonist’s new album celebrating the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech simultaneously chides society for the many ways in which that dream remains deferred. The first two tracks set the tone for what’s to follow, straight-up instrumental jazz alternating with spoken-word versions of Watson compositions, the gently swinging “Sweet Dreams” leading to the title track and its linking of two slain Martins, King and Trayvon. Poet Glenn North was enlisted by Watson to write and recite words to Watson’s music, some having earlier music-only incarnations. Watson’s wife, vocalist Pamela Baskin-Watson, contributes a highlight, “Seekers of the Sun (Son),” and bassist Curtis Lundy offers two others. The band is rounded out by trumpeter Hermon Mehari, pianist Richard Johnson, drummer Eric Kennedy and, on select tracks, Horace Washington on flute and Karita Carter on trombone.

The uplifting “A Blues of Hope,” which opens with Washington’s flute and includes a deep solo from Watson, is an instrumental standout, as is “Progress,” which contains what sounds like a passing reference to John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme. North definitely quotes Bob Marley in “Dark Days,” and he strings together bitter ironies in “My Song” to create a defiant strength. Lundy’s “MLK on Jazz (Love Transforms)” quotes King extensively extolling jazz at a festival in Berlin (“Much of the power of the freedom movement in the United States has come from this music. … [N]ow jazz is exported to the world, for in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man…”), and Duke Ellington’s gospel-inspired “Come Sunday” serves as a well-chosen benediction.

Originally Published