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Uncle June: Be It As I See It

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Dedicated to his be-bopping drummer father and Sun Ra, Gerald Cleaver stretches contemporary musical modes in Be It As I See It with his band Uncle June. Cleaver’s compositions interweave intimate and grand statements with a graceful story-telling beauty. The band is large, including Craig Taborn on piano and keyboards, Andy Taub on banjo (in “22 Minutes”), Mat Maneri on viola, Andrew Bishop on winds and reeds, Tony Malaby on sax, Drew Gress on bass, John Cleaver and Jean Carla Rodea on vocals, and Gerald Cleaver on drums and vocals.

The larger concept addressed in this recording is The Great Migration of the slaves from the South of the United States to the North, a process which took decades to complete and culminated in the 70’s, left Blacks without continental roots, but forged their freedom. Cleaver’s music is as diverse as the people who trekked their path geographically, yet sticks close to describing how he gratefully experienced his own family which never split apart throughout the journey.

With Cleaver himself reciting the opening “To Love,” the album blasts out with dissonance, a wail from the sax and a cacophony of sound which eventually wraps up in a short chorus that resembles a Saturday Night Live band riff. Solemnity, blues, warmth and tenderness is evoked not only in the following suite, “Fence & Post,” written for his parents, but also through to the closing of the last “From A Life Of The Same Name,” when the piano’s treble notes just trail away.

Cleaver’s vocation as a drummer does not brand the music; rather emanating from the album are lovely tunes which have the force that a mindfully well-formed group can give them. Crystalline piano and synthesizer phrasings in concordance with strings, voice and instrumental mixing, weighty saxophone and piano solos, or synchronous and rhythmic, quirky meanderings point to the complexity of the basic context of Cleaver’s intentions. Each instrument comes forward with its best strokes always for the purpose of “Truth Telling Truth.”

Originally Published