By John McDonough | Published January 2019
There is an explicit and personal statement at work in People Of The Sun that involves race, identity and what it means to be black in America. But the elements Marcus Strickland uses fall back on platitudes of the pop vernacular—funky rhythms, hip-hop interludes and some passing vocal choir blends of West African descent. The humdrum nature of both the music and the ideas just don’t measure up to their goals.
Recent outrages have brought a fresh activism to pop music, and Strickland’s Twi-Life band is where the saxophonist reaches beyond the perimeters of jazz into the foothills of politics. As a musician, he walks in the deep footsteps of John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Charles Mingus and Max Roach, but is cautious by comparison. His predecessors spoke clearly in the language of the modern jazz mainstream and avant-garde. Here, Strickland has mixed a cocktail of categories whose flavors align awkwardly.
Six of his 11 pieces involve vocal recitations or snippets of conversations, sometimes filtered or undermixed, which masks clarity. He noodles about on bass clarinet on “On My Mind,” as Greg Tate muses on love without offering much sustenance on the subject. It slips into a tranquil monotone of rap, more preoccupied with flexing its internal rhymes than enriching its content.
Unfortunately, there is little redemption to be found on the five instrumentals. Two are almost too brief to note. An honorable mission of mixed outcomes.
People Of The Sun: Lullaby; Timing; People Of The Sun; On My Mind; Relentlessness; Marvelous; Black Love; Build; Make Sure To Return; Aim High; Spirit Of The Music. (44:52)
Personnel: Marcus Strickland, tenor, alto, sopranino saxophone, bass clarinet, vocals; Keyon Harrold (6, 10), trumpet; Mitch Henry, keyboards; Kyle Miles, bass; Charles Haynes, drums; Weedie Braimah, vocals, percussion (1, 2, 6, 10); Pharoahe Monch (4), Bilal (4), Akie Bermiss (6), Jermaine Holmes (10), vocals; Greg Tate (4), Melanie Charles (9), Kasey Hearns (9), Petra Richterova (11), Angelika Beener (7), Vanessa Strickland (7), Dawn McGee Strickland (7), spoken word.