Salim Washington: Dogon Revisited (Passin’ Thru)

Review of album by saxophonist and flutist with a strong social and political message

Cover of Salim Washington album Dogon Revisited on Passin’ Thru
Cover of Salim Washington album Dogon Revisited on Passin’ Thru

Saxophonist and flutist Salim Washington’s music is characterized by a deep-running tranquility. Emotions are never forced; rather, they’re cultivated inside the listener. “Self Love/Revolutionary Ontology,” for instance, includes several free tenor passages, stoked with fury yet surpassingly gentle—no shock-screams or honks. The song eventually settles into a Spanish-tinged movement with an undercurrent of funk, followed by an extended multiphonic saxophone squeal as bassist Hill Greene maintains the melodic and chordal foundations. Here, as elsewhere, drummer Tyshawn Sorey transcends the timekeeper role, adding seasoning and texture to Greene’s straightforward impetus, prodding and goading, responding with angular, juxtaposed offshoots. Time seems to shift, dissolve, re-manifest and change direction, yet it never ceases to move forward.

“New Invasion of Africa,” on which Melanie Dyer recites Amiri Baraka’s scathing takedown of Barack Obama’s Libya policy (“Imperialism can look like anything/Can be quiet and intelligent and even have/A pretty wife”), is brightened by Washington’s bell-like mbira accompaniment. “Uh Oh!” is a mostly straight-ahead, swinging outing on which sax and drums trade boppish figures and accents. The Julius Hemphill-penned “Dogon A.D.” is tightly structured but challenging, its non-Western-sounding themes and pulsating funk mood characteristic of the Diasporan scope that informs virtually all of Washington’s music. On both of those tracks, Dyer’s solo viola unleashes an ecstatic, throaty shout, impeccably controlled yet freedom-bound.

Washington’s Africanist stance is unyielding, even militant, but it’s also guided by the spirit of the aphorism usually credited to Che Guevara: “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.”

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David Whiteis

David Whiteis is a critic, journalist, and author based in Chicago. He is the recipient of the Blues Foundation’s 2001 Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Achievement in Journalism. His books include Southern Soul-Blues (U. of Illinois Press, 2013) and Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories (U. Of Illinois Press, 2006). He is currently at work completing a book on contemporary Chicago blues and a co-written autobiography of the late soul singer Denise LaSalle.