Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Harriet Tubman: The Terror End of Beauty (Sunnyside)

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

JazzTimes may earn a small commission if you buy something using one of the retail links in our articles. JazzTimes does not accept money for any editorial recommendations. Read more about our policy here. Thanks for supporting JazzTimes.
Cover of Harriet Tubman album The Terror End of Beauty
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.

Start Your Free Trial to Continue Reading

Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.
Originally Published