Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty (Sunnyside)

Review of latest album by the trio of Brandon Ross, Melvin Gibbs, and J.T. Lewis

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Cover of Harriet Tubman album The Terror End of Beauty

All music has a presence, but there’s a certain level of respect saved for pieces that prove their value by surrounding, engulfing, and perhaps even altering listeners. The emotional wallop that’s central to Harriet Tubman’s latest program has a deeper impact than lots of improv-slanted discs I’ve heard of late. In a fierce blend of unity and scope, the NYC trio of guitarist Brandon Ross, bassist Melvin Gibbs, and drummer J.T. Lewis find ways to make their volition, and therefore their vision, palpable. An inescapable feeling of commitment snakes through what’s arguably their densest album to date. Along the way it foregrounds history, politics, race, creativity, and the kind of transcendence that can sometimes be found in the poetic tirades of frenzied strings and percussion.

With key textural guidance from producer Scotty Hard, the band boasts newfound clout, and the music’s dimension is bolstered, too—some moments can be intimidating. Sections of the 10-track program border on opaque, but amid the rumbles, drones, and roars are nuanced passages that provide breathing room by inviting atmospherics into the fray. It could be Ross’ wailing on Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song”; it could be Gibbs letting a sub-sonic boom decay on “Prototaxite”; it could be the riveting solo Lewis offers on “Drumtion.” With Sonny Sharrock’s Monkey-Pockie-Booand Power Tools’ Strange Meeting in the rear-view mirror, the trio commandeers a lingo of vehemence and bends it into the future. Indeed, The Terror End of Beauty’s title references a Sharrock quote about uniting a pair of life’s seemingly incongruous elements, and the radiant turmoil the band delivers here suggests they’ve come close to finding an insightful balance between the two.

Preview, buy or download The Terror End of Beauty on Amazon!