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A jazz version of 'Dixie' and more surprises from Brian McCarthy


Brian McCarthy Nonet, "The Better Angels of Our Nature" (Truth Revolution Recording Collective).

Who the devil, among jazz fans, ever imagined we'd hear a record that genuinely gave us a fine and appealing jazz nonet version of "Dixie?"

Here's what Brian McCarthy, who led and arranged and composed for this continually surprising and quite brilliant nonet, writes about its version of "Dixie." "This minstrel song has long lived as part of America's pop culture and continues to be a symbol of oppression. It's difficult history begins with its authorship. David Emmett, a Northerner who is credited with writing the song said, 'If I had known to what use they (Southerners) were going to put my song, I would be damned if I would have written it.' There is additional evidence the song was originally written tongue in cheek by an African-American minstrel band, the Snowden Family band. ... I've dug into the DNA of jazz pulling out blues and gospel and primordial elements. I also mirrored the spirit of disobedience and the words of Frederick Douglas's 'agitate, agitate, agitate.' What better language to speak to this song than jazz?"

In that spirit, McCarthy arranges all sorts of classic civil war music for nonet, including the South's "Bonnie Blue Flag" and the North's "Battle Cry of Freedom" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic." "We are not enemies but friends," insists McCarthy of America. "We must not be enemies."

The classic phrase of the disc's title, of course, is a sample of Abraham Lincoln's almost offhand eloquence. "This project explores a time before jazz existed but a time that was crucial to its existence. Out of America's history of slavery, racism and discrimination, jazz music emerged from African American culture." And wound up with the fine playing and musical imagination in this sumptuous nonet recording. Wholly unexpected and terrific.

3 1/2 stars (out of four)


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