Cynthia Felton, in Freedom Jazz Dance, at first appears to be serving up a great collection of jazz standards, but she's actually fusing a deeply soulful element into those esteemed gems, resulting in a soul-jazz CD that's pretty damned unique. That she revels in the possibilities of the human voice is more than obvious, and a good deal of the arrangements go back to the much missed CTI days of Freddie Hubbard and others (in fact, Wallace Roney's intro to My Funny Valentine is almost shockingly Hubbard-esque a la Sky Dive, deliciously so, sending a chill up the spine—counterpointed and complemented further on in the song by Robert Hurst's bowed contrabass solo). So the question becomes: who on Earth crafted each cut with such incisive authenticity, such erudite knowingness? Well, the answer is: none other than Ms. Felton, who holds a doctorate and founded The Ethnomusicology Library of American Heritage, and who, from hearing things on this slab, I'm pretty sure could hold her own with the inimitable Wynton Marsalis, likewise a formidable intellect and student of music. That alone says a lot.
Perhaps the key to it all is contained in the lead cut, the trad Oh Freedom, here solo a capella. Though brief, it puts the spine of a lot of later music under glass, and Felton jumps right into a very Jarreau-ish reading of Take 5, carrying the essence of Oh Freedom 's elder days forward. No less an expert than Nat Hentoff places Felton beyond categorization (alongside Oscar Brown Jr.), and it's an apt distinction. Two very unique discs have wafted my way recently and this is one of them; the other, Mina Agossi's boggling Red Eyes (here), is equally striking but in a completely different manner. Felton believes jazz to be high art (damn straight!—right, Mingus?) and the proof is no better shown than in her singing and arranging skills, which bind everything that came before, stops for a few days in the present, and then moves it all forward.
Are Nat and I the only ones to feel this way? Oh hell no! Take a look at the sessioneers on Freedom: Ronald Muldrow, Ernie Watts, Patrice Rushen, Donald Brown, the abovementioned Wallace Roney, and many others. The CD is pure class but of another order, a multi-facted whole unto itself. The title cut is a keystone reference point, abstract, trad, jagged, high flown, deft, and warm while oh so cool. Taken as a whole, this CD is a revelation, and, somewhere, Nina Simone is smiling in her grave, or from the Great Beyond, or maybe just in transit, coming back again to grace us with her rebellious brilliance, finally satisfied and resplendent that someone has kept the light brightly burning after her own manner.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2012, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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