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Salem Washington: Reviews

by Florence Wetzel, AllAboutJazz.com

Harlem Homecoming is a breath of fresh air, a powerful musical statement that will surely give hope to those who bemoan the future of jazz. These ten original songs were mostly composed by Washington and executed by the formidable Harlem Arts Ensemble; the CD is a heady mix of first-rate musicianship with positive intention and emotional warmth. The ensemble, comprised of fourteen uniformly excellent musicians-including Kuumba Frank Lacy (trombone, flugelhorn), as well as Washington's wife, Melanie Dyer (viola), and their son Malik (drums)-shines on all of the tunes.

All the songs are worth mention, but several stand out. The title track has a fat, funky sound with a cooking front line and an urgent wildness reminiscent of Ellington's famous jungle sound. "Stranded," a Lacy tune, has a delicious Blue Note feel and amazing horn work, featuring the composer on flugelhorn. There are lots of great solos, including one by Donald Smith (the "High Priest of Harlem") on piano. "Country Walk" is downright goofy, a playful song with broad sounds and tight-as-a-drum ensemble playing.

The tour de force is "In Search of Sane Alternatives," Washington's response to the events and aftermath of September 11. The majestic song explores the many emotions evoked by America's recent history and includes a spoken word interval by Washington that sums up the situation with soulful passion.

One of the reasons Harlem Homecoming is so compelling is that the Harlem Arts Ensemble creates music 100% true to jazz's roots, but at the same time effortlessly blends it with other modern music, including the Motown sound and funk. The other reason is that this music is grounded in values such as family, community, national unity and world peace. Washington's vision is strong and true, and he has found the perfect vehicle of expression in jazz.

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