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Live Review: Fresh Cut Orchestra Plays the Freedom Now Suite in North Carolina

Nearly 50 years after the Greensboro, N.C., sit-ins, Max Roach’s We Insist! gets a powerful new rendition in the state that inspired it

Stacy Dillard, Josh Lawrence, Jason Fraticelli, and Melanie Charles at Black Mountain College
Left to right: Stacy Dillard, Josh Lawrence, Jason Fraticelli, and Melanie Charles at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Feb. 23, 2019 (Photo: Matt Zeher / NC Natural & Cultural Resources)

Black Mountain College was a noble experiment in progressive education that existed from 1933 until 1957. Its legacy is preserved in downtown Asheville, N.C., by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, based in a new and roomy gallery space with clear sightlines to the street outside. Downstairs on a wall display you can see the redacted file the FBI kept on R. Buckminster Fuller, the futurist architect and onetime BMC faculty member.

Timed to coincide with the exhibit “Politics at Black Mountain College” and an initiative from the North Carolina Arts Council called Come Hear NC, the Fresh Cut Orchestra arrived in Asheville for a two-night stand (Feb. 22 and 23) at the center, playing the 1960 epic We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite in its entirety. Based mainly in Philadelphia and New York, the band traveled light, paring down from 10 to six members and adding Melanie Charles on vocals and flute. But far from offering a simple rundown of the album’s five tracks, the Fresh Cut co-leaders—trumpeter Josh Lawrence, bassist Jason Fraticelli, and drummer Anwar Marshall—gave them a panoramic interpretation, venturing stylistically far afield yet remaining grounded in a sober appreciation of the album’s meaning, then and now.

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