By: Damian Wilkes, UK VIBE
Canadian born drummer Curtis Nowosad releases this his third album, although, this self-titled album is the first with this configuration and on Sessionheads United records. Nowosad’s line-up for this enterprise consists of Luke Sellick on bass, Andrew Renfroe on guitar and the extremely active alto saxophonist Braxton Cook alongside Curtis on drums. This foursome is his main quartet but the recording additionally features Duane Eubanks on trumpet, Jonathan Thomas playing piano, Rhodes and organ, Corey Wallace on trombone, Matthew Whitaker also on organ duties and Marc Cary also playing keys. And for this 8-track venture, four of the compositions include vocalists Michael Mayo and Brianna Thomas.
The album begins with a vibrant version of Gil Scott-Heron’s sombre ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ (1971). Here, guitar, trumpet and piano are front and centre for this dynamic but expressive instrumental version (although it’s hard to touch Esther Phillip’s 1972 version). ‘The Water Protectors’, which is an ode to the indigenous people of North America, comprises of a mesmerising vocal performance from Michael Mayo and his very effective vocalisations rather than use of lyrics, while Cook’s appropriately lyrical sax solo appears during the second half before the brilliantly disjointed rhythm of the final 40 seconds closes the piece. The Delta blues of the Deep South is explored within Skip James’ masterpiece of country blues with a version of the apocalyptic ‘Hard Time Killing Floor Blues’. The surprise of having a female vocalist in Brianna Thomas perform the song rather than a male was rather effective.
The 3/4 of ‘Waltz 4 Meg’ is a brilliantly written and executed piece, with its swirling piano, impeccable guitar work and gliding saxophone floating above the intricate but yet unobtrusive drums parts in perfect symmetry. ‘Never Forget What They Did To Fred Hampton’ touches upon themes of oppression, struggle and social upheaval, a commonality with the LP and its stylistically focussed compositions. Duane Eubanks (trumpet) and Andrew Renfroe (guitar) steal the show here. And for an insight into the track’s inspiration, this writer recommends, ‘The Black Panthers: Vanguard Of The Revolution’ (2015), a skilfully crafted documentary regarding the Black Panther Party which also explores the work of activist Fred Hampton and his subsequent early death at the hands of the Chicago Police Department in 1969 aged just 21. This premise continues with ‘Song 4 Marielle Franco’ a composition written almost as an elegy to the Brazilian human rights activist, likewise murdered for her forthright views on social injustice, corruption and police brutality in 2018.
After making Harlem his home since 2013, Nowosad has obviously been influenced by the social consciousness that is evident within this part of New York. The album is full of worthwhile motifs and ideas both during the five original compositions as well as with the three remakes, with Nina Simone’s ‘See Line Woman’ featuring the vocals of Brianna Thomas is also worthy of a mention. And it’s these contemporary observations of world history as well as its present state which give the album an edge over many other modern jazz recordings.