Jazz CD Reviews
MSJO – Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra – Harriet Tubman (jazz oratorio) – Noir Records
Published on May 8, 2008
Bassist, composer and conductor Marcus Shelby has written all the music and lyrics of this major production – except for his orchestration of the familiar spiritual Go Down Moses. The work features a 14-piece orchestra plus four vocalists, with Faye Carol as the voice of Harriet Tubman. This is an effective and very moving work in the vein of Ellington’s Sacred Concerts.
Shelby reports that a book about Harriet Tubman his mother gave him at age 8 was the first that spoke to him of a black person as a hero. He decided to organize this work to reflect the various languages of jazz, including field and blues hollars, work songs, spirituals, and scat singing. His music and lyrics do a fine job communicating the amazing life experiences of Tubman, who suffered incredible abuse as a slave, adventures in the Underground Railroad which gained her the eventual name of Moses the Black Liberator. She was on the battlefield during the Civil War and later campaigned for civil rights for women and minorities.
I had half expected the oratorio to be mainly some nice arrangements of spirituals with some impassioned readings, but it is a full-fledged, original and very compelling jazz oratorio, with swinging instrumental big-band numbers in it, including some exciting solo work. It could and should be performed widely, but would need a good tight big band and a skilled quartet of singers.
TrackList: Prelude: Ben & Rit, Ashanti Stomp, I Will Not Stand Still, Ben (Passin’ Time), Life on the Chesapeake, Over Here Lord, North to Delaware, Stampede of Slaves, Freedom Trail, 54th Regiment (Will They Fight?), Black Suffrage Blues, Go Down Moses.
– John Henry