Kanye West had an eventful few days in New York City.
The Jazz Standard was recently sold-out while bassist Rufus Reid was holding court. This was a special evening for the arranger and composer. It was his New York premiere and the CD release of “Quiet Pride” (Motema Music), a moving suite of compositions inspired by the artistry of sculptor Elizabeth Catlett (April 15, 1915-April 2, 2012).
The tiny stage was crammed with a large ensemble of reeds, trumpets and trombones and the conductor Dennis Mackrel, along with the core group of Reid, pianist Steve Allee, guitarist Vic Juris, drummer Jonathan Blake and the natural instrumentation of Charenee Wade (vocals). Drummer Herlin Riley performed on the CD recording.
The album’s six tracks, including “Prelude to Recognition,” are titled after five sculptures by Elizabeth Catlett: “Recognition, 1970,” “Mother and Child, 1971, “Tapestry in the Sky” (inspired by the sculpture “Stargazer, 1997”), “Singing Head, 1980” and “Glory, 1981.”
“My goal was to have the music rendered so as to parallel my feelings and thoughts evoked by these beautiful Elizabeth Catlett sculptures,” stated Reid. “With this project, I hope to increase the awareness of the magnificent artistic contributions and spirit of America’s national treasure, Elizabeth Catlett.”
Catlett was one of America’s most significant sculptors, her contributions to the world of art being just as important as Picasso’s. Her sculptures are improvisational works of art that reflect life from an African-American perspective.
Reid’s music gives a voice to Catlett’s sculptures, allowing them to sing, swing and expand on Black culture as it exists today. “Mother and Child” features the original vocals of Wade and illustrates how the birth of a child is the most glorious, natural act on earth. The music is joyful, powerful and intense—a soulful sway that follows the rhythmic curves of the sculpture.
“Mother and Child,” done in limestone in 1939, won first prize in sculpture at the American Negro Exposition in Chicago (1940).
The voice of Wade is at the heart of “Singing Head,” as the ensemble intuitively swings with heavy drum intensity, vamping on tenor saxophone improvisation, with increased movement from the reed and trumpet sections. Each person usually has a different perspective of the artwork they are viewing and music they are listening to. The same can be said for these sculptures. While Reid has come up with his own musical connection, others may see another color or another definition of Catlett’s work. But for sure, the music and artistry are from the life experiences of both artists whose work represents the trials and tribulations of Blacks in America.
Catlett, a graduate of Howard University, was a committed activist during the era of segregation and the McCarthy years. She was closely watched by the United States Embassy. She was later considered an “ undesirable alien” by the State Department and eventually gave up her American citizenship. In 1947, she married Mexican artist Francisco Mora and became a Mexican citizen.
“Glory” pushes rapid harmonies and hard-hitting chords that could reflect Catlett’s days as an activist in America. Trumpet flurries and disjointed piano chords engage in moving conversation as the vocals of Wade rise and calm the flurry as an emotional saxophone moves in on “Tapestry in the Sky.”