The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
"Today isn't about the black struggle any more. It's about the class struggle. The poor urgently need to form an alliance against the greedy rich."
These aren't the kind of words you would expect to read within the sleeve notes of a jazz album, even if they were spoken by David Murray - probably the prime tenor saxophonist of his generation - a successor and true inheritor of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and John Coltrane.
They accompany the newest album of the World Saxophone Quartet, Yes We Can, the title words which were of course the war words of the massive campaign to elect Barack Obama to the US presidency in 2008.
And this album follows the 2005 record Political Blues, full of direct and damning criticism of the Bush years in the White House and a presidency of war, imperial arrogance and domestic neglect of the poor and those assailed by natural catastrophe.
In the same sleeve notes Murray is still hopefully about Obama as "someone we can trust," although many among his people are not, as they contemplate the present administration's actions and inactions across the world stage and the disappointments and deflated hopes from Palestine and Guantanamo to Venezuela and Afghanistan.
The quartet was created in 1976 and made many of its empowering and pioneering albums in the Reagan years, when it consisted of Murray, altoist Oliver Lake, baritonist Hamiet Bluiett and altoist Julius Hemphill.
In this incarnation Bluiett and Murray come together with the astonishing Detroit tenor and soprano virtuoso James Carter.
Coming in as a guest star is the veteran New Orleans altoist Kidd Jordan, who was originally instrumental in bringing the quartet together all those years ago.
He plays as if he has been a fixture all through his musical life.
The group's whirling ensembles bring in the opener Hattie Wall, after Bluiett's baritone riffs provide the foundation for some mesmeric reed acrobatics, with Carter and Murray brandishing tenor broadsides simultaneously, and Jordan's higher flourishes sweep between, around and above them.
It is a unique jazz sound from a unique formation which flies in every conceivable direction like the scattering of a flock of piping birds.
Carter's soprano is prominent through Jordan's tune The River Niger, until Murray comes howling and squirming in as if Africa was afire with sound, union and hope.
Jordan's solo alto spits and sucks its solo notes before cessation is all.
Bluiett's grounding baritone and Carter's soprano sound out the bold theme of Murray's title tune.
Anthemic and bursting with echoes of people's organisation and power, it is as if these four saxophones represent the US millions - a sonic mobilisation is happening within our ears.
The conclusion - Mingus-like in its burlesque and with a pastiche of pseudo-patriotic song tune extracts - perhaps suggests that the election of the US's first black president does not mean that ties have been anything like cut between Obama and the most reactionary Pentagon and White House powerbrokers of previous administrations, from Hillary Clinton to Robert Gates.
Murray's haunting opus The God of Pain is a long, mournful draught of the blues with three horns in unison and Murray's tenor reaching out beyond them in agonised, crescendo phrases that culminate in a lingering, wounded coda.
Then comes the more jaunty Angel of Pain, bringing relief and - it seems - some sonic optimism.
Bluiett's The Guessing Game is the longest track, in which his clear-toned clarinet duets with the undertow of Murray's bass clarinet for a full five minutes before the other confreres enter.
Bluiett's clarinet is a revelation - full-voiced, sometimes with a New Orleans liquidity, at other times searing and transcendent, giving the quartet a transformed sound.
Then, before the final reprise of Hattie Wall, is Murray's Long March To Freedom, introduced by a howling tenor fanfare as if the saxophone itself is the black US's resurgent and true horn of liberation, from Hawkins and Coltrane, all the way to Murray and Carter.
And as it blasts out of this Berlin concert hall, far from its arena of struggle, you can hear within it the voices of Douglas, Tubman and Dubois, Robeson, King and Malcolm propelling it forward towards its summation, well beyond Obama.
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