Gregg August

Dialogues On Race, Volume One

The breadth of bassist Gregg August’s jazz and classical training manifests itself on this large-group offering, where a profusion of styles and orchestration combine. To be sure, it’s a jazz album, replete with incredible improvised performances from his ensemble cast—especially by tenorist JD Allen—as August draws from the colorful textures of Ellington, the dissonances of Stravinsky and the organized chaos of Carla Bley. Great American jazz composers didn’t shy away from issues of race or civil rights, and August wades into the deep end. Writings by Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and others are animated by singers and narrators, the words underscored and sometimes supplanted by August’s own innovative tone poems. A notable moment comes on “Your Only Child,” an expanded piece for horns, strings and haunting vocals by Shelley Washington. Art, it has been argued, isn’t meant to provide pleasure, but rather to provoke. August proves it can do both.

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