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T.K. Blue: Follow the North Star

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Commissioned by the New York State Council on the Arts to compose a suite dedicated to the early African-American presence in the Hudson Valley, multi-instrumentalist T.K. Blue (Talib Kibwe) has emerged with this compelling opus that tells the story of Solomon Northup, an African-American born a freeman who was kidnapped in 1841, sold into slavery on a plantation in Louisiana, and was finally rescued 12 years later.

Much like David Murray’s magnificent 2007 release Sacred Ground, Follow the North Star takes a very dark chapter in American history and recounts it with astounding beauty and grace. The listener is guided through Northup’s life, beginning with his African heritage, his peaceful life as a farmer and violinist in upstate New York, through his capture in Washington, his subsequent enslavement in Louisiana, and finally resolves with his rescue and return to New York. It’s hard to say whether the highlight of this suite is the composition itself or the stellar band T.K. Blue has put together to play it. James Weidman, Essiet Okon Essiet, Willie Martinez and Kevin Jones shine in the rhythm section, and Steve Turre fills out the arrangements on trombone and conch shells on four tracks. There are hints of both Pharoah Sanders and Yusef Lateef in Blue’s saxophone, flute and kalimba work, and as always his deep-rooted love of African jazz shines through.