Christian McBride's 'The Movement Revisited' at Disney Hall
A four-section suite ruminating on the civil rights movement weds the music to the message.
There was a remarkable atmosphere of synchronicity during the performance of Christian McBride's The Movement Revisited" at Walt Disney Concert Hall on Friday night. And maybe a trace of irony as well.
The four-section suite for big jazz band, small jazz group, gospel choir and narrators focused its segments on the words, the memory and the legacy of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. Performed at a time when the Democratic Party appears poised to choose Barack Obama as its presidential nominee, both the linkage to the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s as well as the fact that it's taken at least four decades since that era for the nomination of an African American to become a possibility were constant subtexts to the performance.
McBride -- who is both a world-class jazz bassist and the Los Angeles Philharmonic's current creative chair for jazz -- was first commissioned to write The Movement Revisited" 10 years ago by the Portland Arts Society as a two-part work for a small jazz group and a gospel choir. His first response, he explained in his prologue to the performance, was to say no: I had no idea how to write for a choir, and I'd never written lyrics for anything." But the society persisted, McBride's composition skills matured, the concept expanded, the instrumentation grew larger, and it all came together in this constantly engaging presentation.
The connection between jazz and spoken word reaches back at least as far as the beatnik poetry and jazz performances of the 1950s. One could also make a case for the long historical presence of music -- most of it drawing upon the same roots that nourished jazz -- in African American churches.
McBride drew upon both those sources, sometimes applying the spontaneity of improvisation, sometimes unleashing the inspirational sounds of gospel voices, supporting it all with massed big band textures and a propulsive rhythm section (often driving the latter with his own big-toned, articulate bass playing).